The PEMA initiative takes mental health forward

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Despite the absence of definitive studies on the causes of mental health conditions within the nation, The PEMA Secretariat acknowledges the global recognition of the multifaceted nature of mental health issues. With this understanding, the country has integrated mental health components into its National Health Survey 2023, aiming to gather valuable insights into prevalent risk factors and conditions specific to the Bhutanese context.

Bhutan has embarked on a journey to address its mental health challenges through a comprehensive and inclusive approach with the establishment of The PEMA.

Established on 16 June 2022, under the visionary leadership of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, The PEMA  serves as country’s central agency for mental health. Comprising the PEMA Secretariat and the forthcoming 60-bed PEMA Center, its mission encompasses planning, coordination, and provision of timely mental health services. With a focus on proactive service delivery, an enabling mental health system, multisectoral collaboration, and prevention efforts, The PEMA aims to reduce the burden of mental health disorders and associated stigma in Bhutan.

The PEMA revealed that while conclusive survey results are pending, aggregated case-based information from health facilities indicates that prolonged substance use frequently serves as a common trigger for mental health issues.

The Annual Health Bulletin of 2022 reported a significant number of cases related to mental health and behavioral disorders attributed to alcohol and substance use. Anxiety and depression together comprised approximately half of the mental health cases in the country, shedding light on the urgent need for intervention.

The PEMA said that they have taken the lead in arranging a coordinated approach to prevention and service enhancement. Collaborating with multiple stakeholders, the agency ensures the delivery of quality and effective interventions across various domains. Notable efforts include collaborating with the Ministry of Education and Skills Development to address mental health challenges in schools through antibullying initiatives and promoting a safe environment and wellbeing.

To identify mental health issues at an early stage, Bhutan is in the process of developing a mental health and wellbeing screening system. This system is designed to identify common mental health issues at an early stage, facilitating the mobilization of appropriate and timely services.

Additionally, the establishment of the PEMA Helpline offers essential services such as counseling assistance and case management, emphasizing confidentiality and personalized care. Creating awareness remains a cornerstone of prevention efforts, with standardized information, education, and communication materials disseminated through the social media and traditional media outlets.

Recognizing the importance of accessible mental health services, The PEMA is strengthening integrated mental health care within general healthcare services. Efforts include recruiting and training mental health professionals and establishing specialized services for children and adolescents within the Department of Psychiatry. Hospital-based substance use disorder programs provide comprehensive support to individuals facing addiction-related issues, aiming for holistic recovery.

The establishment of dedicated helplines for mental health crisis intervention ensures immediate support for individuals in distress. Professional counselors offer counseling services and facilitate referrals, prioritizing effective crisis interventions, including suicidal behaviors.

Furthermore, postvention services play a crucial role in providing support to family members, friends and other individuals affected by the suicide of a loved one, aiming to mitigate the long-term effects on survivors and promote healing and resilience.

The PEMA revealed that addressing mental health issues and suicide requires a collective effort due to their multifaceted nature. Bhutan acknowledges the challenges posed by factors, such as mental disorders, social issues, and substance use, requiring collaboration from various sectors and organizations. Efforts are underway to consolidate commitments and develop a national coordination mechanism to facilitate comprehensive planning and implementation in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders.

National Multisectoral Mental Health Strategy and Action Plan is planned as an overarching guiding document to align existing policies, strategies, and services with the country’s broader mandates, ensuring a coordinated approach to mental health interventions aligned with the national development agenda.

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