The Pema Centre, an agency to spearhead the national response to mental health, has been established. The Centre will be the apex body in the country which will provide all the mental health services across the country including rehabilitation, helpline services and many more. The Centre is a 60-bedded hospital.
An official from The Pema Centre said depression cases have doubled including suicides, starting from 2019 to 2021, right after the global pandemic hit the country.
According to the data from the past five years, on an average Bhutan is losing seven to eight lives to suicide per month and Bhutan also has the burden of alcoholic liver disease which is still the number one cause of mortality. It has become a huge concern for the country.
The Pema Centre will focus more on the prevention aspects and prepare all kinds of responses with regard to mental health. The Centre will also provide aftercare services. They will provide active follow-up services for indicative individuals. The highest risk factor found in people who have suicidal ideas is a previous attempt.
Also, many times people seek help only when they have chronic signs and symptoms so, in order to enhance the well-being of the citizen, it is important to have early identification and intervention. In the schools, they will start screening mental health and also in colleges and institutes and in the future, they will also start screening in the workplaces.
The Centre will also work on anti-bullying programs and mechanisms in institutes, schools and colleges. According to the survey in the schools, 27 per cent of the students are experiencing bullying and according to another individual research carried out in collaboration with some of the institutes outside, 36 per cent of the college students experience bullying. So, therefore, it not only needs programs and advocacies but also a mechanism to address this issue in schools and colleges.
Another one is to develop workplace sexual harassment prevention policy to guide all the organization and make sure that they have standard operating procedure to prevent sexual harassment at work places.
Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said Bhutan has just two psychiatrists and two residents trained on this. The Pema Centre wished to expand in other dzongkhags but there is a shortage of human resources.
Meanwhile, the Pema Centre has three core divisions, for Self-Harm Prevention, Violence Prevention and Response, and Substance Use Prevention and Care. Their collective mandate is to make proactive and reliable mental health services accessible for all. The team’s first steps towards this include setting up channels through which those in need of services can seek help, and systems to support them as well as their families and caregivers.
Dasho Dechen said there are many barriers for drug abusers in the country. Dasho said for somebody who is convicted for drug abuse and served prison term and even after that they cannot move forward.
Dasho said even if they want to work, they do not get a No Objection Certificate. The kid has no other way than to go back to his old habits. Therefore, the health ministry is also reviewing the law, as to how can the law be supportive. There should be enough understanding of the consequences so that the kids will make the right choice, Dasho added.
The Centre is comprised of a board and staff from a diverse set of backgrounds, working under the guidance of Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen.