Mental Health Takes Center Stage: Prioritizing People-Centered Care, Community Engagement

On World Mental Health Day, the administration reaffirmed its dedication to tackling mental health issues head-on, with a strong emphasis on people-centered primary mental healthcare and community involvement. The event, which took place in the serene capital city of Thimphu, sought to accelerate efforts towards mental health promotion and the enhancement of mental health services in the country.

Mental health is a global concern that knows no boundaries, and Bhutan is no exception. The Himalayan kingdom grapples with a significant burden, with a staggering 32.50 percent of its population affected by mental, neurological, and substance use disorders, along with alarming rates of suicide, as per the Mental, Neurological, and Substance Use Disorder and Suicide (MNSS) statistics.

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering expressed his gratitude in his address to Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen for her instrumental role in establishing the PEMA Secretariat. This institution has played a pivotal role in addressing mental health issues in Bhutan, emphasizing its commitment to this pressing matter.

In his address, Prime Minister Tshering highlighted the unique challenge posed by mental health issues, as they are often not as easily detectable as physical diseases. He underscored the importance of actively promoting mental hygiene through advocacy and widespread dissemination efforts.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo echoed these concerns by drawing attention to the global crisis surrounding mental health. She pointed out the significant service gap and the stark reality that only two percent of the world’s healthcare investments are directed towards mental health hygiene.

Minister Wangmo highlighted the multifaceted approach of the PEMA Secretariat, which operates on various fronts including active advocacy, proactive and responsive services, and legislative support. She emphasized the urgent need to combat the stigma associated with mental health through advocacy campaigns and awareness initiatives.

While the treatment for substance-related issues has commenced at select regional hospitals and Phuentsholing Hospital, Bhutan faces challenges in expanding these services to other healthcare centers due to a shortage of human resources. Presently, Bhutan has only a limited number of psychiatrists, with 14 clinical counselors stationed in different dzongkhags.

Dr. Damber K. Nirola, a psychiatrist at JDWNRH, shed light on the contributing factors behind the rising number of youths seeking psychiatric help. Factors such as job loss due to the pandemic, migration, academic competition, and fierce competition in the job market have all added to the mental health crisis. Additionally, certain traumatic events in society, such as rape, murder, and suicide, can lead to post-traumatic stress among individuals exposed to such incidents.

Regarding drug abuse, Dr. Nirola acknowledged the challenges faced by law enforcement agencies in apprehending those who use hard-to-detect drugs. He also recognized the growing demand for psychiatrists and the associated challenges in addressing mental health issues within the country.

Bhutan’s commitment to addressing mental health issues is a testament to its dedication to the well-being of its citizens. The nation is actively working towards a future where mental health is not just an afterthought but an integral part of holistic healthcare. As the world grapples with the far-reaching impacts of mental health issues, Bhutan’s efforts serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for nations everywhere, reminding us that the journey towards a mentally healthier world begins at the community level, where every individual matters.

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