During this year’s Mental Awareness Week, which is on the theme of Stress and related issues, The Gibraltar Mental Welfare Society would like to share its views on how it sees the development of mental health provision in Gibraltar, in selected areas.
Undoubtedly, the introduction of the long-awaited Lasting Powers of Attorney and Capacity Bill in February was a major step forward in the provision of legislation to safeguard the rights of individuals living with mental health issues. This Bill should be a guarantee to both service users, and their families, that whatever the circumstances, the best possible care will be available. The introduction of the Bill was one of the GMWS’s objectives and we are very pleased that it has actually been implemented. In order to ensure that the benefits of the new legislation are easily accessed by all who need it, we suggested to Minister Costa that there should be guidelines which would help people clearly understand the Bill’s provisions. The suggestion was taken on board and we are now waiting for these guidelines to be published.
In regard to other of the Society’s objectives, we are working on various issues. During ongoing meetings with the Minister for Health, we have been assured that matters are moving forward on a number of fronts which the Society has brought to the table:
We have been pushing for years for an increase in benefits for those people who are unable to work as a result of mental health problems. Although we are pleased to note that many service users are now benefitting from the rather more generous provision of the Disability allowance, the most that an individual can receive is £500 a month. This is still a rather limited sum of money to live on. The Society is regularly approached by individuals who cannot make ends meet, in order to help pay for bills, and even to buy food to last them till the end of the month. The Society believes this is not a sustainable situation. Mental health problems can be seriously exacerbated as a result of precarious financial conditions. Therefore, the ultimate objective of the Society, in the matter of benefits, is for an individual to receive a sum which can realistically cover basic living expenses.
In relation to this matter, we have been told by the Minister for Health that the possibility of supporting service users with electricity, water and rental bill arrears exists and we believe that this matter is being explored. The Society considers that if these measures are formally in place, they should be made easily accessible to those who require it.
Regarding the School Counselling Service, we are aware that solid work is being conducted on this matter, in conjunction with the Department of Education. We strongly welcome this development and look forward to an early implementation of an appropriate system which will help minimise mental health problems amongst the young. This will prove an invaluable investment in our society.
Regarding the issue of supported housing, we have been told that the Government is considering “the introduction of supported housing with a variety of set-ups”. Once again, we welcome these assertions but would like public information on what exactly is going to be put in place, and when.
Through its contact with the general public the Society continues to monitor how people affected by mental health issues, directly or indirectly, feel about current provision in our community. With people’s concerns in mind, the Society will continue to work towards achieving its objectives in this field.