Health minister Tandin Wangchuk at the last ‘meet the press’ session urged people to come forward to address mental health issue in Bhutan.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said experts in the ministry said mental health is like any other disease as long as it is diagnosed early and treated on time.

He said the problem in Bhutan, as well as the region, is the stigma attached to mental health. “Although there are facilities available to treat mental health patients, there are only few people who come forward to avail the service.”

The minister said it is difficult for the ministry to reach out to mental health patients. “So we create awareness,” he said. “If there is a symptom of any mental illness, they should be brought to the hospital.”

A psychiatrist with the national referral hospital, Dr Chencho Dorji, in an earlier interview with Kuensel said that to treat mental health patient, medical as well as social support is needed.

He said other patients have the ability to understand that they are ill and that they should get treatment but the challenge in psychiatry is most patients do not know that they are ill or they don’t accept that they are ill and then do not take treatment.

He said roughly 25 percent of mental health patients live a normal life after treatment while roughly 25 percent never get better.

Dr Chencho Dorji said the hospital do not keep mental health patients for more than two months. “The patients are kept for diagnosis, initiating medication and to educate the family.”

He said the patients are not kept in the ward for long because it is never certain when the patients will be cured. “The other danger is if you take over from the families and keep them in the ward, the family will never come to take them back.”

Dr Chencho Dorji said because the families have their own work and because they do not know how to take care of the patients, they burn out. “We mandate to have attendants while treating the patients to teach families how to take care of the patients.”

He said that mental health patients need social support to remain well after they are discharged from hospitals. “Because we don’t know where they go.”

Health minister said to address mental health, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck national referral hospital (JDWNRH) has four psychiatrists and two counsellors specialised in mental health.

He said that the ministry has also selected four doctors for postgraduate studies in psychiatry. “They are currently doing their course in nursing and public health in the Khesar Gyelpo University of Medical Science in Bhutan.”

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said during the financial year 2016-2017, 86 doctors, 104 nurses, health assistants and clinical officers were trained to have compulsory service and counselling in mental health.

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He said eight other health professionals have been trained to tackle mental health through traditional medicine. “To make it more convenient we have also initiated the facility health help centre (HHC), where people are trained to provide counselling.”

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that to support the students and to help identify early cases of mental health, there are 81 counsellors in schools.

He said that from 2013 to 2016, 2,688 psychiatric patients were treated in the country. “In 2016, 617 psychiatry outpatient cases were treated compared to 169 in 2006.”

Lyonchhen said 159 psychiatric patients were admitted in the ward in 2006 and in 2016, 604 patients were admitted across the country.

Karma Cheki