Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo

A comprehensive system in place for mental health issues in the country: Health Minister

Mental health patients have just the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) to get their treatments, as there are no facilities at the community level to address mental health issues in the country.

According to the Health Minister, Dasho Dechen Wangmo, there are various mental health issues in the country. Currently, the alcohol detox services and rehabilitation services with basic treatment are provided at the BHU level. The patients requiring specialized treatment and care are referred for rehabilitation.

The Health Minister said it is very important to have a supportive system for the mental health issues at the community level, especially as a majority of the population resides in rural areas, where the community vitality is very high and community network is very good.

“So we may not be labeling it as a mental health intervention per se, but if you go to the community and if somebody passes away, the whole community comes and helps and provides the support, and that is mental health. It is just that we are not putting it as a mental health intervention,” Lyonpo added.

Within the national key result area under the GNH framework, the community vitality is fairly good, especially in the rural areas, but such networks are not well developed in many urban cities.

In terms of the budget, mental health is cross-cutting, and it has not gotten the focus it deserves. Lyonpo said there is an urgency to address mental health issues. “We want to approach a life cycle based approach to mental health, where we look at it from conception till death,” said Lyonpo.

Lyonpo also said that it is not only to prevent mental health crises, psychosis, and depression, but at the same time, how to promote mental health and wellbeing, to teach people to be happy and content.

Lyonpo said Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen’s initiatives are not only looking at mental health, but is also looking at the five most vulnerable population in the country; domestic, sexual abuse, substance addiction, alcohol and tobacco, suicide prevention, elderly population and people with disabilities. So these are the population where Her Majesty wants to see a comprehensive system in place, where they are taken care of.

“So once we have this system in place then we can truly call ourselves a GNH nation. Personally and professionally, I am more than happy to see this historic initiative under the benevolent leadership of Her Majesty,” said Lyonpo.

Substance abuse and alcohol addiction cases are mostly happening in younger age groups including children. 97 percent of the youth are in educational institutions, so education plays an important role, said the Health Minister.

The health ministry is currently discussing how to mainstream mental health into every teaching curriculum. It is also looking at the identification of vulnerable children, and then referring them to a service, and teachers should equally be able to do that, not just leave it up to the designated counselors, said Lyonpo.

Meanwhile, the health ministry inaugurated the Pema Center recently by Her Majesty. The Pema Center is a mental health hospital, however, the hospital will not be called a mental health hospital because it is Her Majesty’s aspiration.

Pema meaning lotus grows in very dirty water and it blossoms into a beautiful flower. So that it connotes that every human being has a potential to blossom and have an opportunity to be a productive citizen. Pema Center will be located in the JDWNRH campus where they will manage very acute cases of mental health. All the treatment will be provided, and eventually moved to a rehabilitation center.

The objective now is no longer about treating the patients, but rather Her Majesty’s aspiration is how to make that individual a productive citizen of the country. Through the rehabilitation and after care and re-skilling program, the ultimate goal is to make that individual into a productive citizen.

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