DOH lauds Catanduanes move to care for mental patients

By Danny O. Calleja

DARAGA, Albay, Jan. 18 (PNA) – After counting some 300 island residents suffering from mental health disorders, the provincial government of Catanduanes is firming up the establishment of psychiatric care units—a move that earned the applause of the regional health office based here.

“Great move,” Department of Health (DOH) Regional Director Gloria Balboa over the weekend said, referring to a report from Catanduanes Provincial Health Office (PHO) chief Dr. Hazel Palmes.

In her report to Balboa, Palmes said the provincial government under Gov. Araceli Wong has decided to set up acute psychiatric units in four towns that are strategically distributed within the province.

These facilities will cater to the need for proper care of the about 300 residents of the province who are suffering from different forms of mental disorder.

The Mental Health Gap Action Programme (MHGAP) of the World Health Organization listed bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia, depression, dementia, developmental disorders — including autism and intellectual disabilities — as among the most common mental health problems

They are generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behavior and relationships with others.

The provincial government-run public hospitals — Caramoran Municipal Hospital; Juan M. Alberto Memorial District Hospital in Bato town; Gigmoto District Hospital in the municipality of Gigmoto; and Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Caramoan — will house these proposed new facilities, according to Palmes’ report.

Given the number, Balboa said, the need to address the problem of mental healthcare in the province is indeed a necessity and the Bicol regional Center for Health and Development (CHD) is supportive of this move.

The idea was hatched during the recent training on the Early Recognition and Management of Common Mental Health Disorders conducted by a team from the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) to orient local health practitioners on the proper way of diagnosing and attending to mental health cases, the PHO chief said.

After the training, which lasted for five days, the team headed by NCMH executive director Dr. Bernardo Vicente inspected the hospitals recommended to house the psychiatric units to assess its facilities and suggested means as to how they could comply with the requirements.

The training was part of a continuing program under the WHO-MHGAP aimed at scaling up services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders involving indigent patients in developing countries.

Apart from conducting trainings, the program through the NCMH also deploys psychiatrists or mental health workers in areas needing their services.

Under the proposed psychiatric unit project, Palmes explained that the Catanduanes provincial government, through the PHO, will organize community-based mental health teams which shall hold lectures to provide information to the public on how to manage mental health problems at home.

Each team, composed of locally-trained doctors and other medical personnel, will continuously conduct regular visits to monitor patients and provide them maintenance medicines.

This will enable the teams to solve the problem of accommodating patients in the hospital without compromising their mental health needs.

Acute cases will be confined at the designated hospital, Palmes said.

Cases beyond the capability of the locally-trained mental healthcare workers, she said, will be referred to specialists outside the province or to the Don Susano Rodriguez Memorial Mental Hospital in Pili, Camarines Sur — the lone Mental Health Care Facility in the region being run by the government-owned Bicol Medical Center based in Naga City.

This mental hospital has a 200-bed capacity including five male wards, a strap room and an isolation room.

Patient management can also be done through consultations via Internet-connected computers called telepsychiatry and in cases involving more difficult patients, NCMH specialists may provide occasional visits to the province, Palmes said.

Balboa said providing attention to psychotic cases is one big problem confronting the DOH, considering the scarcity of psychiatrists practicing in the country and concentrated in Metro Manila with only a few based in Bicol, particularly in the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur and Masbate.

The country has only around 500 psychiatrists and among the reasons for this small number is that this line of medical specialization is not a mainstream practice unlike general medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics-gynecology and cardiology, among others, she said.

Another problem, Balboa said, is that families have the tendency to hide their mental patients, denying them professional treatments—reason why they get worse, not knowing that appropriate treatment could cure the illness and bring back patients to their normal personality.

To address this problem Balboa said, separate examination rooms for mental patients should be prepared to ensure privacy and confidentiality as without these isolated facilities, families are discouraged from submitting their patients to hospitals.

Palmes told Balboa in the report that the Catanduanes provincial government has scheduled the opening of these local mental healthcare facilities by next year.

The DOH regional office is elated over this project that will certainly help provide effective treatments and social services for mental disorders and alleviate the patients’ sufferings, Balboa added. (PNA)