By: Omar Silva, Editor, National Perspective Belize
Belize City, Tuesday 10th October 2023 - As the world grapples with the far-reaching consequences of the ongoing pandemic, Belize is no exception to the burgeoning mental health crisis that has cast a shadow over the nation. The recent introduction of an updated National Mental Health Policy by the Ministry of Health & Wellness, PAHO, the World Health Organization, and the European Union is a step forward. Still, it leaves many questioning whether this policy revision will finally lead to the establishment of a decent and adequate Psychiatric Ward with Certified Psychiatrists who specialize in various levels of mental health conditions, including Depression, Anxiety, and their respective therapeutic treatments and medications.
Year after year, promises of improved mental health care have been made, but the reality on the ground has yet to catch up with these pledges. The lack of concrete action has left countless Belizeans struggling to find the mental health support they need.
The updated National Mental Health Policy, introduced at a ceremony held at the Best Western Biltmore Hotel in Belize City, emphasizes the importance of recognizing the human rights of individuals living with mental health conditions and prioritizing their well-being. Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director of Public Health & Wellness, stressed the significance of mental health and the need for a more compassionate and inclusive society. She described the policy as the result of extensive research, consultations, and a testament to the ministry's commitment to the welfare of the people.
Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell, PAHO/WHO Country Representative, reiterated the importance of mental health as an essential part of overall well-being. She highlighted that mental health conditions encompass a wide range of diagnoses, many of which were traditionally overlooked by the general public. These conditions often lead to stigmatization and social exclusion, further exacerbating the challenges faced by those affected.
The updated policy aims to align Belize with international best practices, such as PAHO/WHO's Plan of Action on Mental Health 2013-2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Its goal is to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being by 2030.
Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health & Wellness, emphasized the importance of mental health as a fundamental human right. He noted the profound impact of recent global challenges, including the pandemic, economic upheaval, and social disruptions, on mental health. Belizeans have faced these trials with resilience, making it evident that mental health services are not merely desirable but indispensable.
Despite the lack of comprehensive epidemiological studies on mental health in Belize, the Belize Health Information System reported three mental health diagnostic categories between 2018 and 2021. These numbers underscore the pressing need for improved mental health care and services.
Dr. Fidel Cuellar, Deputy Director of Health & Wellness, shared the ambitious vision of the mental health policy – to provide comprehensive, integrated, community-based mental health services that respond to local needs. The commitment is clear: every Belizean, regardless of their location or background, has the right to receive the best, culturally appropriate care possible.
However, it is crucial to acknowledge that the dire need for mental health care in Belize has been magnified by the pandemic. Reports indicate that as much as 10% of the population is now exhibiting symptoms of Depression and related mental burdens, making it imperative that the promises made in the revised policy are swiftly translated into concrete actions that prioritize the mental well-being of all Belizeans.
The time for change is now, and the nation's leaders must prioritize mental health care as an essential component of a healthier and more resilient Belizean society. The words spoken today must translate into meaningful actions that deliver the mental health care services Belizeans deserve.