By Jomo Paul
[www.inewsguyana.com] – Child abuse has been dubbed the tobacco of mental health as far as treatment and effects go; early abuse have proven to be a contributor to several all types of mental illness.
In Guyana, the new APNU+AFC coalition Government has promised to place mental health on the front burner of health issues to be tackled but there has been little said concerning the mental health of Children across the country.
Research conducted at the Harvard University has shown that the abuse of children leads predominantly to conditions such as depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It revealed that 25% of participants had suffered major depression at some point in their lives and seven per cent had been diagnosed with PTSD.
However, among the 16% of participants who had suffered three or more types of child abuse including, physical abuse, neglect and verbal abuse — the situation was much worse. The majority, 53%, had suffered depression and 40% were reported to have full or partial PTSD.
Meanwhile in Guyana, there is somewhat a “crumbling” system that addresses the mental health of abused children; with just one Psychologist available at the Public Hospital and a vacant post at the Child Care and Protection Agency (CPA).
CPA Head Ann Green had disclosed that the post has been vacant since the institution was established back in 2011.
Green told iNews that a social worker screens every child that comes into contact with the agency. She however admitted that sometimes, a simple screen is not enough to address the mental health concerns of the child.
“Some of the issues are beyond that level of counselling, they need a clinical psychologist so it goes beyond the social work health type of counselling,” Green stated.
The CPA Head also admitted that the government’s response to the mental health of abused children in Guyana has been very poor.
On a scale of one to ten, Green puts it at a lowly three. “A psychiatrist should screen every child that was abused – that we have in care,” she stated.
The career social worker pointed out too that hundreds of Guyanese children are reported to be suffering from abuse each year; however, the numbers are much higher since most of the cases go unreported.
“People deal from the point of pain and hurt people – hurt people…Children as young as five years might be having some serious mental health issues. Every child that is abused, we need to address their mental health,” Green lamented.
Dr Mosa Hutson, a Psychologist at the Ministry of Public Health, explained that some of the more common forms of mental illness found in Guyanese – especially those with a history of abuse range from clinical depression to PTSD.
Asked about the lack of mental health professionals, Dr Hutson stated that more incentive-based motivation needs to be provided for persons to venture into psychology since they would not pay their own tuition and then work for meagre remunerations.
“The other persons who would have done areas related to psychology and such – they pay for their own studies and when they come back, either they go to their own practice – cause I am the only one based at the Public Health Ministry…their package have to be good,” said Dr Hutson.
However child rights groups and mental health advocates are insistent that more can be done at the present time, with the present resources.
Vidyaratha Kisson, a mental health advocate and University of Guyana Lecturer, is of the view that there is an urgent need in Guyana for more mental health professionals – psychologists and psychiatrists.
“I believe that there is urgent need in Guyana for more child psychologists who could do more in-depth diagnosis and treatment plans. I was horrified when I heard a child who was more or less on her own had been given medication for her mental health issues – she was not in a position to take or understand the medication and there were no adults who were interested in her well being.”
Much like the research conducted at Harvard, Kissoon also concludes that survivors of child abuse have to cope with certain trauma, which may manifest sometime in their life. For some, sooner, rather than later.
He said he has personally known adults who appear to be functioning sometimes reach stages in their lives, either when they are about to have their own children or they are older or some life issue comes up, and they have to come to terms with what has happened.
“Some adults may have triggers such as being in certain locations, hearing certain sounds or even smelling certain smells associated with the perpetrator of the abuse. Male survivors especially have very little support in Guyana, if any it is mostly Georgetown based,” he said.
“The impact of the abuse on the child depends on the intensity, duration of the abuse, the age of the child and how adults respond when the abuse is disclosed. Some children adapt and find ways to survive and they do function. It might sound cliché, but the issue of thriving is also critical,” he added.
Valini Leitch, a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer of ChildLink – a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) – that deals with abused children believes that the government should engage the requisite child rights and mental health agencies.
Together, they would be able to craft the way forward and ensure that every child gets the mental aid she/he may need in the event of them suffering at the hands of abusers.
“We need to move away from policies and see actual implementation of these policies. In depth research needs to be done to find out the root causes and reasons,’ said Leitch.
On a separate note, the National Coordinator of Health Services, Leslyn B told iNews that training for relevant personnel is one of the factors addressed in the Government’s five year plan for mental health.
“Training will not only be at a professional level, training would be in the communities because we realize not only is it an issue for professionals, it is a community problem. But the training is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Holder.
She said that one person is scheduled to depart Guyana for psychology training in Cuba later in October.
Holder could not give an estimate as to how many psychologists the mental health strategy would yield in the next five years; however, she remains hopeful that it would be enough to address Guyana’s mental health endemic.