Health ministry takes problem management to communities

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Mental health sign. (Image: courtesy of Pixabay).

The Ministry of Health & Wellness launched the pilot of an intervention geared at helping Jamaicans to optimise their ability to cope with adversity that could undermine their mental wellness. The intervention, called Problem Management Plus (PM+), is being implemented in collaboration with the Pan-American Health Organisation, and forms a part of the island’s national mental health response programme.

“PM+ is designed to bring mental health support services to communities, meeting people where they are while providing them with the space and the tools to overcome adversity that can impact their mental wellness,” said, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, minister of health & wellness. “The programme is specifically for persons who are experiencing adversities, such as loss of family, friends and/or livelihood; exposure to sexual and/or physical violence; as well as violent deaths or natural disasters, including hurricanes and floods. These are all circumstances that may result in moments of anxiety, stress, or mild depression,” the minister added. “The mission of this programme is, therefore, to identify early these psychological problems – stress, fear, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness as well as social issues related to employment, conflict in the family and other adversities in the community – and to help people to cope,” he said further.

Noting that Jamaica is a “society in distress”, Dr Tufton said the latest intervention is as timely as it is important, with its focus on training leaders attached to community organisations (notably faith- and community-based organisations) as PM+ supervisors who then train PM+ providers and give guidance and support while they assist persons within their community or parish. “Our intention over the coming months is to train a large cohort of PM+ providers who are well able to support persons in the management of their problems using the problem-solving approach and to practise appropriate behavioural strategies to maintain health,” Minister Tufton explained.

Already some 34 PM+ supervisors have been trained. They have, in turn, trained 85 PM+ providers. The providers are currently located in 12 parishes, with Trelawny and St Thomas to come on stream shortly.

The launch of the programme comes against the background of an increase in suicides and a noticeable increase in the demand for the ministry’s mental health & suicide prevention helpline, 888-NEW-LIFE (888-639-5433). In Jamaica in 2021, 34 suicide cases were reported compared to 64 in 2022. For January alone this year, there were 14 suspected cases recorded. The helpline, meanwhile, received 2,190 calls, last year (2022), an increase of 542 when compared to 1,648 the year before (2021).

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