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A team of medical personnel and social workers from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) graduated yesterday, from a four day training course in mental health.  A closing ceremony, where the graduates were issued their certificates, was held at Guysuco’s staff club at its La Bonne Intention’s (LBI) head office.

Minister in the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings related that, “Guyana is affected by a scourge of mental health issues particularly in the area of suicide.”

“Therefore, for this reason the government since assuming office is taking strides to address it. Hence, the programme is necessary and timely especially since Guysuco is going through a phase at this time”, Dr. Cummings noted. She added that the aim of this training is to provide non-specializsed doctors with the requisite skills and knowledge to better screen patients and provide diagnostic assessment that includes treatment and long term care for persons living with mental ailments.

The members of the team are now skilled in the area of depression psychosis, epilepsy, child and adolescent mental and behavioural disorders, dementia, self-harm suicide and other mental health issues. These conditions are what is seen in 95 percent cases of mental health.

Dr. Cummings said, “This programme imbues non-specialised doctors, like yourself, with a confidence that you previously didn’t have in your field of mental health. The strategic aims of this mental health learning schedule are to improve the general practitioners’ skills and confidence, the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions using evidence based strategies and tools, increase the physician’s awareness of community mental health resources…..”

The Minister emphasized that suicide is everybody’s business and pointed out that the Ministry’s mental health institute will soon come onboard. “So for those mental issues we don’t want persons going to the “mad house” the acute cases will go to the Georgetown Public Hospital but for chronic cases we’ll have them dealt with at the mental health institute.” She further encouraged the graduates to put into practice the skills they have garnered and let the drive for excellence be the hallmark of their work.

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Director, Mental Health Unit, Dr. Util Richmond-Thomas (left), Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings (second left) and officials from the Ministry of Public Health and GuySuCo, flanked by the graduates

Director of Ministry’s Mental Health Unit, Dr. Util Richmond-Thomas stated that the training is the first mental health training aimed at Guyuco workers. She explained that the Ministry is working very hard to address human resource needs in order to take care of mental health issues nationwide.

The director noted, “Currently we have six psychiatrists from a population of over 750,000 persons and that is less than one psychiatrist per 100,000 persons. So there’s a scarce supply of psychiatrists, psychologist and occupational therapists as well; so we have lots of deficiencies in the mental health team.”

However, Dr. Richmond-Thomas, is optimistic that the faith of mental health issues will change. She pointed out that currently, there are five psychiatrist residents in training and within another three years, four of them will help at the national level. In addition, she added that the University of Guyana has implemented several psychology programmes, among which is a masters in psychology, which will begin in 2018.

“These graduates will beef up resources for mental health. In the meantime, we need to address our mental health needs and issues, and that is where you graduates come in. We expect you to go out and practice what you have learnt, work to address the mental health issues”, Dr. Richmond-Thomas charged the graduates.

Meanwhile, Guysuco’s Human Resources Director, Earl John indicated that sugar was never just an industry but has always been an educational, social and community development, and health institution.

He recalled that “back in the day” through the intervention of the government of the day, “we started building community centres and manning them with welfare and social welfare officers, who were trained overseas. The absence of community centre activities in the industry doesn’t allow for persons who have their daily frustrations, an outlet to exhale. Therefore, health is fundamental to our production.”

The Human Resources Director noted that there has always been stress in the industry but the recent development is a new dispensation geared at taking the industry forward.

The four day programme was a collaboration between the Ministry of Public Health and Guysuco. It saw workers from Guysuco estates, including Rose Hall, Skeldon, East Demerara, Wales and Uitvught.

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