Mauritius: The Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal, participated this morning in a Mental Health forum at the Octave Wiehé Auditorium in Réduit.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Mauritius, Dr Anne Marie Ancia; the Vice Chancellor of the University of Mauritius, Professor (Dr) Sanjeev K. Sobhee; the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Mauritius, Lisa Simrique Singh; and other personalities were present on the occasion.
This forum was organised in the context of World Mental Health Day celebrated annually on 10 October. The theme identified by the WHO for this year’s Mental Health Day is “Mental health is a Universal Right”.
In his keynote address, Dr Jagutpal underlined that World Mental Health Day is a day of significance that reminds us of the critical importance of mental well-being in our lives. “As we stand at the intersection of a rapidly changing world and evolving societal norms, it is crucial that we reaffirm our commitment to mental health awareness and support,” he added.
The idea of celebrating World Mental Health Day at the University of Mauritius is to further destigmatise and raise awareness that mental health affects each and every one of us, including students of the University who can find it easy to overlook their mental wellbeing due to academic duties, the Minister indicated.
The Health Minister also spoke of how society is evolving at an unprecedented pace, presenting us with new challenges and ills that demand our immediate attention and thoughtful solutions. “Among these, anxiety, stress, drug addiction and suicide have emerged as critical issues that cast a shadow over the well-being of individuals and communities,” he said.
Minister Jagutpal underlined that this forum is timely as mental health issues are not to be taken lightly since they affect people from all walks of life. “Eradicating stigma against people suffering from mental health disorders or disabilities is a collective responsibility and we must foster a society where seeking help for mental health issues is not taken as a sign of weakness, but an act of courage and self-care,” he highlighted.
The Minister also touched upon statistics recorded for the year 2022, outlining that the attendance recorded at Brown Sequard Mental Health Care Centre showed an increase of 11.5 % as compared to 2021 with 29 000 attendances. “For the year 2022, there have been around 80 000 psychiatric consultations in Regional Hospitals, Area Health Centres and Mediclinics,” he pointed out.
Besides, Dr Jagutpal dwelt on measures taken by the Ministry to address mental health issues, including the provision of psychiatric specialist outpatient services in Primary Health Care settings at the Mediclinics of Coromandel, Goodlands and Triolet and at the Area Health Centres of Petite Rivière, Forest Side and Vacoas to add to the 25 Area Health Centres already offering Psychiatric Services and; training of Psychiatrists in India for the administration of Trans Magnetic Stimulation which will soon be introduced soon at Victoria Hospital.
Furthermore, the Minister indicated that laboratory services are now available at Brown Sequard Mental Health Care Centre and new medications that are more effective against strains of dementia and schizophrenia have been introduced.
Regarding drug abuse, Dr Jagutpal underlined that the Prime Minister’s Office recently launched a National Campaign ‘Unis Contre La Drogue’ to sensitise the population against drug abuse.
“To decriminalise drug addiction, the Drug Users Administrative Panel will be launched at the Brown Sequard very soon,” he further announced.
Both Dr Ancia and Professor Sobhee emphasised the importance of considering mental health as a basic human right for all people. “Everyone has a right to the highest attainable standard of mental health and this includes the right to be protected from mental health risks, the right to available, accessible, acceptable, affordable and good quality care, along with the right to inclusion in the community,” Dr Ancia pointed out.
The WHO Representative also indicated that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in older adolescents, and to prevent this, it is essential to raise community awareness and break down the taboo. To assist countries in this task, WHO, alongside the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, will soon launch new guidance on mental health, human rights and legislation, Dr Ancia announced.
This new guidance, she underscored, will support countries to make the changes needed to provide quality mental health care that assists a person’s recovery and respects their dignity, thus empowering people with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities to lead full and healthy lives in their communities.
Dr Ancia lauded Mauritius for its commitment to improving the mental health status of the population, notably through the national awareness campaign on the promotion of physical activity across all ages, amongst others.
“The country has also since the past years decentralised mental health services at regional level in a bid to increase accessibility to care and address stigmatisation associated with mental health,” she said.
On this note, the WHO Representative reiterated the commitment of the Organization to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and other partners so as to continue to work together in ensuring that mental health is promoted and protected for all.
Professor Sobhee highlighted that at the University of Mauritius, the stigma surrounding mental health as well as the need for support to be provided to students and staff is well understood.
On this note, the Vice-Chancellor dwelt on some initiatives of the University as regards mental healthcare, including, counselling and support by their in-house psychologist and; capacity-building of therapists who have an active role to play in supporting mental health.