In Antigua and Barbuda and across the Globe, Mental Health Care has never received the attention it deserves. In this unprecedented time, we must seek to put the health needs of citizens and residents of Antigua and Barbuda at the forefront of our decision-making. Not only should we be receiving better general healthcare, but mental healthcare must be integrated into our overall system to raise the standard of care.
The theme for this year’s Budget Presentation is “Maintaining a Healthy Nation and Restoring a Vibrant Economy”. The Prime Minister talks about Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), Cancer, and Heart Disease being the top three leading causes of death in Antigua and Barbuda and the need to invest in a renal center, a cardiac center, and a medical diagnostic center. It was noted that having a renal center with excess capacity, could provide a niche in our tourism product to cater to tourists with kidney failure. While I agree that these centers have their place in our health system, we must not forget the crucial role our lone Psychiatric Hospital plays.
For years, Mental Health advocates and charitable organizations along with the Staff and Management of the Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital have been calling on the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to invest more in the facility. Currently, Clarevue is in the process of raising $15,000 Eastern Caribbean Dollars to construct an Isolation Room. This must be addressed. While we are investing in new centers, I implore the Government to remember Clarevue and its over 100 patients who require care.
The Police Force, Defence Force, Teachers, Nurses, and all other essential workers must be consistently and professionally trained in Mental Health First Aid to be in a position to assist in the event of a Mental Health Crisis. Additionally, these persons should have access to mental health professionals along with all other frontline workers who have been under tremendous pressure throughout this Pandemic.
Furthermore, the long periods of isolation and uncertainty of the COVID-19 Pandemic have amplified the need for us to invest more in mental health. Our most vulnerable populations such as women, children, and persons from low-income households are at risk of increased stress, anxiety, and depression and we must take responsibility and invest where necessary to ensure their health and safety.
If we are serious about having a healthy nation we must include mental healthcare as a crucial part of our national health policy. Many times, mental health disorders are comorbidity of NCDs, Heart Disease, and Cancer which are leading causes of death in Antigua and Barbuda. It is not enough for us to talk about removing stigma and practicing self-care. Our archaic Legislation on Mental Health from the 1950s must be revised. We must start to Legislate for change, growth, and Prosperity for All.