Government ‘on track’ with addressing mental health issues

Dear Editor,
Let me remind our Guyanese people that “All World Health Organization (WHO) Member States ‘are (or should be) committed’ to implementing the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2030, which aims to improve mental health by strengthening governance, providing community-based care, implementing promotion and prevention strategies, and strengthening information systems, evidence and research.
In this regard, it is good to see that “Mental Health Services (MHS) are expected to be decentralised and expanded across the country over the next few years (in order) to improve access and efficiency.” This gets my loud and echoing ‘amen.’
I actually was quite absorbed as I went through the Government’s “National Mental Health Action Plan and National Suicide Prevention Plan 2024-2030”, which is expected to be a guiding policy document to aid in the achievement of the goals of making these services more accessible.
Here is another reminder, as it shows that Guyana is in line with the WHO mandate. Back in June 2022, the World Health Organization released its largest Review of ‘World Mental Health’ since the turn of the century. The detailed work in this Review provides a blueprint for governments, academics, health professionals, civil society and others with an ambition to support the world in transforming mental health, as it needs that input in a sustained manner.
Editor, this urgency from our leaders is not about being post-COVID reactive, as globally, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, just a small fraction of people in need of MHS had access to effective, affordable, and quality mental health care.
For example, according to the Review, 71% of those with psychosis worldwide did not receive mental health services. While 70% of people with psychosis were reported to be treated in high-income countries, only 12% of people with psychosis received mental health care in low-income countries. For depression, the gaps in service coverage were wide across all countries: even in high-income countries, only one-third of people with depression received formal mental health care, and minimally adequate treatment for depression was estimated to range from 23% in high-income countries to 3% in low- and lower middle-income countries. Pathetic at best!
As I am viewing this ‘lack of parity’ in global services being meted out, I cannot help but be happy that this is exactly what Guyana is bent on preventing. That is why Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, explained that “…the PPP/C Government has been creating the legislative architecture to facilitate changes in mental health care and suicide prevention… and …one of the main things that they have looked at in the development of this action plan is ‘decentralisation’ of Mental Health Services across the country.”
Elaborating on this, the Director of the Mental Health Unit at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Timothy Morgan, said, “…this will foster the move of Mental Health Services into communities… as …we are mostly looking at the mental health strategy in terms of addressing mental health issues more holistically; in a more humanistic way, and we are protecting those persons’ human rights and ensuring their dignity.”
On this latter issue, that of ‘protecting those persons’ (with mental health issues) human rights and ensuring their dignity,’ we must bear in mind, and as the Who Review points out, that “Stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against people with mental health conditions are widespread in communities and care systems everywhere; (yet some) 20 countries still criminalize attempted suicide. (although) Across countries, it is the poorest and most disadvantaged in society who are at greatest risk of mental ill-health and who are also the least likely to receive adequate services.”
So, Editor, as the “WHO’s comprehensive Report highlights why and where change is most needed, and how it can best be achieved, it calls on all stakeholders to work together to deepen the value and commitment given to mental health, reshape the environments that influence mental health, and strengthen the systems that care for people’s mental health.”
Guyana scores well here, as “One of the collaborative partners that aided in the drafting of the action plan was the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), which was represented at the recent launch by Assistant Director Dr. Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, who noted that “PAHO is pleased with the work that Guyana has done over the past years to prioritise mental health and strengthen mental health legislation… (applauding) the Government for the progress that the country has made in addressing the mental health challenges of the population through the implementation of several actions.
I, too, am very pleased.

Yours truly,
HB Singh