The dark side

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Opinions

The happiness cliché associated with Bhutan has an other side to it. The unpleasant landscape of mental illness. Take it for a hyperbole but the irony cannot be starker than this.

What is disturbing is while a boisterous segment of our intelligentsia, politicians and bureaucrats blabber non-stop about Gross National Happiness, a segment of neglected Bhutanese people is suffering in silence.

The statistics would knock some sense.

Mental disorder problems ‘reported’ from the district hospitals has increased from 1,569 in 2004 to 2,010 in 2008. The reports from the basic health units from across the country indicate a similar trend with cases of mental health problems increasing from 158 in 2005 to 264 in 2008. The Thimphu national referral hospital reported 195 cases of mental health problems in 2008 up from 97 in 2004.

Depression, anxiety, psychosis, and mood disorders among others are the most common mental health problems reported in the country.

These figures are records of reported cases maintained by the health ministry till 2008. A chunk of the mentally ill patients do not come out seeking medical treatment fearing social stigma and ostracism. The worst thing is most of them are not even aware of such illness or whether it could be treated with medical help, if they are.

What is more frightening is the lack of physical infrastructure, mental health professionals and funds to deal with mental health issues in the country. Everyone knows there are just two qualified professional psychiatrists in the country at present, both stationed in Thimphu. In addition there are five psychiatrist nurses and one counselor.

Earlier this would have painted a rosier picture, an indication that ours is a country of a happy people. Not anymore when there is more and more Bhutanese suffering from one or other forms of mental illness. Not anymore when there is an alarming rate of suicides occurring and increasing number of drug and alcohol dependents in the country.

Mental health programs need to be prioritized. The health ministry must encourage doctors to opt for specialization in mental health care, train more psychiatric nurses and counselors and place them in district and regional hospitals.

Mental health care must be integrated into the primary health care system. Expansive education and awareness programs on mental issues and sociocultural stigmas must be consistently organized. School teachers and parents must understand the nuances and sensitivities in dealing with children with mental problems.

Health officials must conduct research and study the prevalence of mental illness in both urban and rural settings, find out the cause and conditions, maintain a data base and accordingly, suggest various health reform policies at the national level.

Something must be done because there is a need. We cannot boast of being a happy country and have a segment of our people trying to find peace of mind.

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