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Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen graced the Salhang Tendrel ceremony for The Pema Center- a hospital for mental health and wellbeing within the JDWNRH complex yesterday. 

A Royal Initiative of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, the Pema Center will be a 60-bedded hospital inclusive of outpatient consultation and counselling, emergency services, treatment and procedure rooms, pharmacy, and inpatient wards. 

Addressing the ceremony, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen said that laying the foundation of the Pema Center was to put forth a commitment to build a robust and supportive health care service in the country. Her Majesty stressed on the need to address the gap between the number of people who need mental health care and those who receive it, as well the stigma associated with mental health conditions, which causes hesitation in reaching out for timely support. 

Her Majesty said that mental health will be given the national priority that it deserves.

Also speaking at the event, the health minister, Dechen Wangmo thanked Her Majesty for this royal initiative for mental well-being in Bhutan. Her Majesty’s stewardship of the overarching strategy for mental health and well-being of the people of Bhutan came at a time when such guidance and direction was needed more than ever before, Lyonpo said.

The ceremony was attended by the Prime Minister and senior officials as well as the Ambassador of India and heads of development partner agencies.

 

Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen’s Address at the Salhang Tendrel Ceremony for The Pema Center

3rd November, 2021

As we lay the foundation for The Pema Center, we are putting forth our commitment to build a robust and supportive health care service, to enable people to seek and receive help from health professionals whenever required.

The Center will also extend services to families and friends to provide a better understanding of what their loved ones are going through, to recognize signs of those in distress, and guide them to the right help, support and path to recovery.

Almost every household in Bhutan would have experienced, or know of someone who is affected by a mental health condition. The World Health Organisation states that one in every four people will experience a mental health disorder in our lifetime and that there remains a significant gap between the number of individuals in need of mental health care, and those that receive it. 

This clearly, and sadly, reflects the stigma and the resulting silence on the topic of mental health. Stigma not only hinders our personal well-being, but causes hesitation, that prevents many from reaching out and seeking timely and life changing support. 

This must change. 

In Bhutan, the cases on mental health disorders, deaths by suicide, narcotic drugs and psychotropic substance abuse, and alcohol addiction, have increased over the past decade.

According to the Ministry of Health, a total of 28,467 mental disorder cases were recorded during 2016-2020 alone. And the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a major consequence on mental health across all societies, so this number would have increased significantly since 2020.

What these numbers do not reveal is the depth of suffering and overwhelming isolation that individuals with mental health disorders and their loved ones experience. This has occurred against a backdrop of existing mental health cases prior to the pandemic. These conditions will have severe repercussions on the social and economic wellbeing of the country. 

Domestic violence against women and children have also escalated and this will greatly impact both their physical as well as emotional health. 

I am deeply concerned about the mental health of our children. Early experiences during our formative years are the foundations that shape us. We need to provide strong support for diagnosis and assessment of intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder and the overall mental wellbeing of a child to facilitate early intervention. 

We will therefore, expand and strengthen school-based mental health programs to create a community of social support, positive connections and engagement. These services will be accessible to children and adolescents, families and teachers alike. 

Learning healthy practices to address adversities and the normal stressors of life from a young age translates into the early development of good coping skills and resilience.

It has been devastating to hear about the young lives we continue to lose to suicide, and the suffering and grief that the families and loved ones endure is unimaginable. 

Within 2016-2020 alone, we have lost 491 lives to suicide, with the highest rate found to be among young people aged 11-30 years old. This year alone, till date, 84 more lives have been lost to suicide. For a small country like ours, these numbers are alarming.

The reality is that mental health issues are prevalent in society, yet not easily visible. It is important to remember that mental and physical health issues are the same, and both must receive appropriate medical intervention and care.

We will direct our focus in preventing and promoting mental health through improved policies, major resource allocation, strengthened intersectoral partnerships, research and information. This will lead to an overall system that is comprehensive, responsive and improved. 

We have ahead of us a clear path – To ensure that people who are facing difficulties and struggling with their mental health have the information they need to seek appropriate support. And to ensure a safe, reliable and responsive environment through which they can access immediate and effective care, and quality treatment – whenever and wherever required.

Bhutan is a special and unique country. His Majesty The King has always emphasized that we can overcome any challenge we are faced with, if we all work together. We must put in every effort and all possible means to provide timely intervention and services to support the well being of our people. It is crucial now that as a nation, we embody that spirit of community, and nurture a society that works to ensure that no person suffers in silence, and that we support each other with compassion and kindness through any struggle or adversity. 

Mental health will have the national priority it deserves.

Thank you all for your support and for being here today, on this important and significant milestone.

Tashi Delek.

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