By Anastasha Elliott

The collaborated hosting of a two day workshop on mental health has been called a “very touching and sensitive moment.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday May 16-17, the Ministry of Health on Nevis and the Psychiatric Unit hosted a two-day workshop on the issue of mental health under the theme “Mental Health: Its Impact on the Individual and Society”.

The facilitator for the event was Dr. Ermine Belle a Senior Consultant Psychiatrists from Barbados.

The workshop, the first of its kind was held upstairs the Red Cross Building on Chapel Street in the Gloria Anslyn Hall.

At the opening ceremony Minister of Health Jean Harris, Premier of Nevis Vance Amory and Dr. Belle made remarks.

St. Clair Wallace, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Gender and Social Affairs during opening remarks said mental disorders are found in every society and is no respecter of person.

Anyone can suffer from a mental disorder and it is good that St. Kitts and Nevis recognise the need to develop strong mental health policies.

He noted that one of the greatest challenges is the availability of trained personnel within the islands.

“There is no interest shown by Nevisians on a whole,” he said.  However the workshop is an immediate indicator of the realisation of the affects of mental health on the society he said.

One such indication he noted is that of the plan to construct a psychiatric unit/ward during 2006. “If everything goes well, construction is not far away,” he said.

Minister Harris who gave the feature address said that for many, health or mental health is taken for granted until something occurs.

“It is only then that we realise the importance of our health,” she said. According to Harris the treatment for mental and social health is more difficult to access and its treatment takes time and patience.

Persons between the ages of 8 – 80 from all socio-economic backgrounds suffer from some sort of mental illness or disorder which could include depression, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar.

For the first time in its history the psychiatric unit has its own budget revealed Harris. She added that a full time psychiatrist is being sought.

“Many of us will be affected by mental illness in our lifetime. Therefore we all should be aware of and educate ourselves about mental illness and do away with the stigma that is associated with it,” said Harris.

She added, “signs of mental illness should not be treated lightly, nor should be pushed aside. Get help early. Early treatment can divert long time effects.”

For those suffering from mental disorders or illnesses Harris said that because of social stigma it is difficult to accept.

“Family members, this is not a time to abandon but to help. Let us try to understand mental illness and what it is,” said Harris.

Premier Amory in remarks said on Monday he had requested of a friendly government through its resident ambassador to provide a psychiatrist “until we can persuade one of our residents or they take interest to become one.”

There is over 200 persons on island who suffer from some sort of mental disorder, the most recent additions being teenagers said Amory.

As a result, government is very serious about the provision of treatment of mental illness on the island said Amory.

Dr. Belle then followed Amory with an overview of mental health providing a global and regional perspective.

The first session of the workshop was a presentation entitled “Mental Health – A Need for Reform”.

Other topics covered throughout the today event included: “Your Mental Health and You”, “Psychosocial/Socio-cultural Issues in Mental Health”,  “Introduction to the Classification of Mental Disorders”, ”Functional Psychiatric Disorders” and “Organic Disorder”.

The workshop also featured group work sessions, open discussions, and question and answer segments and video/DVD presentations.

The goals of the workshop were to attain a better understanding of mental health issues and to disseminate information aimed at improving the status of mental health in Nevis.

To reduce the stigma associated with mental wellness/illness and to encourage positive community involvement in every aspect of care for the mental ill and significant others were further goals