This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World. 75% of mental illnesses start before a child reaches their 18th birthday while 50% of mental health problems in adults, aside from dementia, take root before the age of 15. According to UK data, 10% of school children have a diagnosable mental illness and 75% of these young people are not receiving treatment. These are not local statistics but until we have our own database we have to gauge our own needs based on research results elsewhere.
In the last few years, attitudes to mental health have started to change. People are realising that these are issues which need to be dealt with in the same open way as we deal with physical health problems. It is becoming increasingly obvious that we need to invest in awareness, diagnosis and treatment, very early on, in order to offset the worst consequences of these conditions, whenever possible.
In Gibraltar, the community has also become more aware of the importance of mental health for very unfortunate reasons – the shocking number of tragic deaths in the last few years. The impact of these tragedies has made people ask a lot of questions about how we are dealing with mental health issues in our midst.
Recently, the strain on the psychiatric services has also been brought to the fore, including the delays in sentencing in court due to pending psychiatric reports. Once again, people are talking about the implications of not having the necessary system in place and the huge problems facing individuals when the support they need is simply not available.
For these reasons, the Gibraltar Mental Welfare Society has decided to mark this year’s World Mental Health Day in a different way, in the hope that it will emphasise the need for both reflection and action. We are planning to have a silent walk from the Piazza – where a number of groups will be raising awareness on mental health – down to No.6, where we hope to hand in a statement for the Chief Minister, with some of our suggestions for procuring better mental health in Gibraltar.
The walk will start from The Piazza at 1 pm on Wednesday October 10th (World Mental Health Day). We invite any member of the public, who would like to support our requests for a better mental health service, to join us.
We are aware that improvements to the system have taken place over the years but we feel we cannot wait another two, four, six years for certain changes to be made.
To begin with, Gibraltar needs to introduce a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. [CAMHS] The lack of such a facility can have dire effects on the diagnosis and treatment of children. CAMHS is an absolutely essential component of any mental health service and needs to be set up in Gibraltar, as soon as possible. We have done without for far too long.
The Society is also reiterating its call for school counsellors, embedded in the education system, to be made available. This service would go a long way to ensure the early detection of major problems and to support those students going through some form of crisis. This was a GSLP commitment in the 2011 Manifesto and we would like it to be acted on.
Aside from this, Gibraltar needs to have enough psychologists and psychiatrists on hand to ensure that they can deliver on their expertise effectively so that service users, both in the community and in the OV facility, as well as in prison, can have adequate access to therapeutic support.
Historically, everywhere in the world, it would seem, mental health has always been underfunded. This has to stop. We need to make mental health much more of a priority, given that the need for this is so palpable. We feel that the mental health staff in the GHA are already working very hard, providing a very good service of care within the remit of their responsibilities, but beyond that there is simply not a solid enough structure available to ensure best practice.
We ask those in power to consider implementing the improvements to the system which we are suggesting, all based on the feedback which the Society gets from service users and their families. The time has come for some radical improvements to be made.