The Malta Independent 10 December 2018, Monday

Interview: Mental Health, a delicate sector

Malta Independent Monday, 12 December 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

Mr Galea said that according to the World Health Organisation, by the year 2050, mental health problems, such as depression, will overtake cancer and diabetes as the main issues in the health care sector. Parliamentary secretary Mario Galea speaks about what has been done and what is still left to do.

But, he said, despite the international crisis which is gripping the world, the government has not been stingy with those that it terms to be the most vulnerable in society.

He said that during the last legislature, the government has continued to allocate funds so as to spread the reach of community care, for those who do suffer from mental health problems. Testament to this, he said, is the 130 professionals who were engaged to work in the field.

Mr Galea said that there are some 40 localities in Malta which benefit from this measure, adding that this had been supplemented by the opening of three specialised day centres in Floriana, Paola and Zejtun, bringing the total up to five.

The end goal, he said, was to facilitate treatment for people who are in difficulty, by making it available in their own community.

Mr Galea said that the policy is already bearing fruit. “We have already seen that since this service has been introduced to local community, less people are being admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital,” he said. He added that even those who are being admitted to the hospital in the case of crisis care, are spending less time there as the facilities now enable them to seek care closer to home.

It is working because patients can be sent back to the security of their own home, but with the added support of community care. The next one, he said, will be opened in Gzira. Mr Galea referred to the funds allocated to this scheme in the 2012 Budget and sad that a total of €450,000 will be spent on these services alone. He said that apart from the new clinics and day care centres, there were also plans to extend the services offered in Mosta, Rabat and Birkirkara.

In addition, the government allocated € 100,000 to fund the crisis intervention team. This team, he said, deals with cases of attempted suicide or mental health breakdowns. He said that the team is already showing its worth and has intervened in some 879 cases in less than one year. He said that the feedback has been excellent and that even if the team helps in just one case, then it is a life saved. No one, he said, should underestimate illnesses such as depression.

Another team was also set up for adolescents. This team, he said, will deal with problematic youngsters in their own community and the aim is to reduce the amount of young people who receive treatment at Mount Carmel. A total amount of €50,000 has been allocated for the next year to fund the project, he said.

Another project in the field of mental health is the Early Intervention service, and here the government has invested €100,000. This project, he said, aims to nip problems in the bud, especially where psychosis is involved. He explains that the illness is much easier to treat when it is diagnosed early, and in doing so, medical teams can prevent the need for hospitalisation and treatment. “In doing so, we can improve the quality of life of people who might otherwise require a lengthy stay and treatment in hospital,” he said.

Mr Galea said that discussions are also underway with teh Housing Authority to allocate a number of units per year to Mount Carmel Hospital for the Supportive Housing scheme. The aim is for the ‘better’ patients at Mount Carmel, who do not own a home, to have the experience of living alone, though with support within the community.

He said that the scheme is already underway, but will be extended once the Housing Authority hands over the units, which it has already agreed to do.

Mount Carmel Hospital, he said, no longer has the connotations of the not so distant past. He said that one of the main thrusts was to modernise and renovate the hospital, in particular, the older wards and the rehabilitation centre for people with intellectual disabilities.

Other work carried out at Mount Carmel Hospital includes maintenance of Mens’ Ward 1 where the yard was upgraded as well. More refurbishment and maintenance was carried out on the Juvenile Ward and number of others. There was also refurbishment of the Canteen, Training Centre, the Reception area and the Psychology Department.

There are also plans to install new generators at the hospital to ensure that there is an energy supply in the event of a power cut or fault. The tender for these generators has already been issued and they are expected to be installed early next year.

Another project in the pipeline, is the construction of a dual diagnosis unit for female patients. Mr Galea explained that the necessary application had already been submitted to MEPA and is currently being processed. This new unit is set to cost €480,000 and will feature seven bed places.

Mr Galea said that mental illness affects all families in one way or another, at some point in time. His aim, he said, was to reduce the stigma which comes with mental illness by making the issue more open and discussed.

He said that by getting people who have suffered mental illness, back into the community, the medical authorities were contributing to their wellbeing, Mr Galea stresses that people who suffer from mental illness should not be shunned. In fact, he said that it has been proven that they have a much better recovery rate when they can still be a part of the local community. “The state owes it to these people to try and make sure that they enjoy the best quality of life possible,” he said.

No one is immune from developing such conditions, explained Mr Galea, pointing out that depression and anxiety are even being recorded among children and adolescents. Due to changing socio-economic factors and the ever increasing stresses of modern life, the “epidemic” of mental disorders will continue to increase. “Mental health issues need to be addressed through a sustainable and evidence-based strategy,” he emphasised. The majority of the mental health problems are self-limiting but can be treated if proper therapy is given. Even in cases of chronic illness such as in psychosis, modern treatment can control the symptoms and enable one to participate in the socio-economic environment, however many do not report their problems or seek help, he said.

Mr Galea said that there was also a shifting of emphasis from a “curative approach” to a “health maintenance” approach: Research indicates that almost 50% of mental illnesses in adult life have their foundation in childhood. Consequently, the aim is to work with the educational sector and other relevant stakeholders to impart evidence-based promotion and prevention strategies to children and adolescents

He said that the government wanted to promote mental well-being at the workplace. Employment is a source of income and self-worthiness. Yet it can also be a detriment to one’s mental health status. Research indicates that European countries lose 2% to 3% of their gross domestic product due to mental health problems. This means Malta is losing over €100 million annually because of mental health issues at the workplace and there is collaboration with the European Union to seek sustainable and cost effective strategies to address mental health issues at the workplace.

In addition, he said the government is committed to continue expanding the community mental health services and incorporate them within the primary health sector to reach those who need care but are not coming forward for treatment.

Profile

Mario Galea was born in Zejtun on 8 June 1962. He received his education at De La Salle College, the training school for nurses and later the University of Malta.

He obtained his nurse registration in 1983 and received a degree in nursing in 1992. He worked as a nurse at the Accident and Emergency Department and at the main operating theatre at St Luke’s Hospital and later at Mount Carmel Hospital. In 2001 Mr Galea started working as part-time assistant lecturer at the Nursing and Midwifery Division, Institute of Health Care, University of Malta.

He was elected MP for the first time in 1992 and was re-elected in 1998, 2003 and 2008, this being his fourth parliamentary term. He served as information secretary of the Nationalist Party between 1996 and 1998.

Mr Galea also served as whip of the PN parliamentary group and was a member of the international executive committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, having led various delegations to international conferences of the Commonwealth and later served as an international election Observer on behalf of the Commonwealth and European Union in Zimbabwe, Gambia, Liberia, Yemen, Gaza and the West Bank, among others.

Mr Galea is married to Rose née Busuttil and they have two children, Nathan and Nicole.

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