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On July 23, 2023, the Medical Council of Guyana organized an interactive session titled "The New Pandemic: Mental Disorders." This session shed light on the critical issue of mental health and its increasing prevalence globally, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The session emphasized the importance of understanding mental health as a key component of overall well-being and discussed factors contributing to mental illness, challenges in mental health care, and proactive steps that physicians and healthcare providers can take to address this growing concern.
Mental health is defined as emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It encompasses our thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and how we interact with others. The session stressed the importance of recognizing mental health as an integral part of one's overall health.
A pandemic is defined as a disease outbreak that spreads across countries and continents. The session highlighted that mental disorders are now being reported from almost all countries and continents, making them a global pandemic. They affect individuals across all regions and are increasing in prevalence.
The Spectrum of Mental Health Illness
The spectrum of mental health disorders was discussed, ranging from visible to non-visible conditions, mild to life-threatening, clinical to non-clinical cases, and the iceberg phenomenon. The iceberg phenomenon illustrates that many cases of mental illness go unnoticed, mirroring most of the iceberg submerged underwater.
The Impact of COVID-19
The session acknowledged the steep rise in mental illness during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the youth being the most affected group. It also revealed that the pandemic exposed limited mental health resources and accessibility issues.
Factors Contributing to Mental Illness
Several factors contributing to mental illness were identified, including individual factors such as loneliness, stress, substance abuse, and low self-esteem. Family-related factors like divorce, relationship stress, and domestic violence, as well as community-level issues like lack of awareness and social support, also play a significant role. Stigma surrounding mental health and governance-related challenges, such as the absence of baseline data and accessible services, further compound the problem.
Addressing Mental Health Issues
The session outlined the difficulties in addressing mental health issues, including the lack of awareness at all levels, insufficient baseline data, stigma leading to poor reporting, inadequate training among healthcare providers, and limited availability and accessibility of mental healthcare services.
Challenges in Mental Health Care
Challenges in mental health care were discussed, including the lack of training and tools for screening and diagnosis, low confidence in treatment and management, recent advances in medication therapy and psychotherapy, and the need for personalized or customized treatment plans.
Physician's Role in Addressing Mental Health
The session called upon physicians and healthcare providers to take proactive steps, including:
1. Properly training GPs and other healthcare providers to diagnose and manage mental health conditions.
2. Keeping knowledge up-to-date through continuous medical education, workshops, and seminars.
3. Promoting awareness about mental illness in the community.
4. Encouraging family and community support.
5. Involving school systems in training teachers to identify mental illness or its risk factors early.
6. Normalizing discussions about mental health among healthcare professionals and patients.
7. Supporting and training teachers and community workers to identify mental illness or its risk factors early.
8. Establishing support and awareness groups in the workplace.
9. Exploring telemedicine and awareness sessions for remote areas of Guyana.
Contributing Factors to Mental Health Issues Among Healthcare Providers
The session highlighted contributing factors such as stress, long work hours, emotional exhaustion, burnout, low self-esteem, depression, untreated mental illness, marital and relationship issues, substance abuse, and malpractice claims. It emphasized the need for better support and facilities in the workplace.
Promoting the Mental Well-Being of Healthcare Providers
To ensure the mental well-being of healthcare providers, the session recommended normalizing discussions about mental health, raising awareness about physicians' mental health and contributing factors, implementing mental health well-being activities and policies in the workplace, and providing support through peer groups, management resources, and regular screenings.
The Medical Council of Guyana's interactive session on "The New Pandemic: Mental Disorders" brought attention to the pressing issue of mental health. It stressed the importance of recognizing mental health as a global pandemic and called upon physicians and healthcare providers to play a pivotal role in addressing this crisis. By increasing awareness, reducing stigma, improving access to care, and prioritizing mental well-being in the workplace, we can collectively work towards a healthier future for all.