The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

New mental health hospital should be built, sector must be government priority - University Dean

Shona Berger Tuesday, 10 May 2022, 10:13 Last update: about 6 days ago

A new mental health hospital close to Mater Dei Hospital should be built next year, whilst the mental health sector needs to be made a government priority for the coming years “as it is a growing problem”, according to the Dean of Social Wellbeing Andrew Azzopardi. 

These are just a few of a hundred proposals put forth Professor Azzopardi to improve Malta’s mental health sector, in consultation with psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and people who suffer from mental health problems. 

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Professor Azzopardi says that a national strategy is needed to prevent suicide and more investment needs to be put into resources to revitalize the mental health strategy. 

There is a need for services for children who suffer from mental health problems because at times, Azzopardi says that sometimes it takes too long until a person receives treatment when using government services, due to the waiting list. 

Sociometric testing should be implemented for people who will play a role in the management of agencies and authorities that manage people. 

A national rolling database to determine the number of people with mental health problems, the most prevalent conditions and how many of them are receiving services in the community or in residential settings is also needed, Azzopardi says. 

There should also be more empirical research carried out by the University of Malta and other educational institutions.

“This research would allow us to move closer to evidence-based services. No more services can be opened without the necessary research being done before that happens,” Azzopardi says. 

Studies also need to be carried out on this phenomenon of self-harm so the necessary analysis and actions are taken accordingly, whilst more research on the intersectionality between different realities, for example, mental health and poverty is also needed. These are then to be addressed. 

The prodromal phase of psychosis needs to be addressed as soon as possible to prevent people from facing further crises, whilst clinics need to be well-equipped with the right resources. 

There is also the need for greater investment in the field of eating disorders. 

“We need to continue to model services on the Shelter for Health Foundation where there is convergence between professionals and working with stakeholders (including family). 

Azzopardi proposes that there is a need for other specialised services. For example, for people suffering from borderline personality disorder on this same model. 

“In these areas we need to strengthen the concept of outpatients which remains fundamental when it comes to aftercare,” he says. 

More funding is needed for NGOs working in the mental health sector as well as agreements of at least five years to be able to plan long-term. 

People with psychosis, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, among others should be offered support pathways. 

There is also the need to offer specialised mental health first aid for youth workers, older persons and other specific populations.

Among the proposals, Azzopardi also says that issues related to alleged discrimination by insurance companies against people with a mental health problem should be addressed, whilst a the position for a Parliamentary Secretary for Mental Health should be created. 

There is also a need for a national mental health agency modeled on the SAPPORT Agency to bring together government social services and liaise with health services and more work is needed to reduce access to alcohol so easily. 

Azzopardi also called for more public figures in the role of Mental Health Ambassadors such as Mario Galea and Claudia Faniello and others to talk about aspects of mental health and how it has affected them. 

A special mental health program provided by specialised professionals, also for those who enter Malta with an asylum application or refugee status is needed. 

Resources are also needed and should be be provided for research to the Department of Mental Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty for the Strengthening of Society. 

More young people and adults should be encouraged to specialize and work in the field of mental health. 

A transitional support program for those who are in the transitional phase as LGBTQI+ people and their families due to the pressure that society imposes on them are also required in Malta. 

Other proposals include on-going training for those working in the mental health sector through CPD, a need for more media awareness programs, collaboration with Local Councils to prevent bullying and harassment of people with mental health problems in towns and villages through community development programs, and there is also a need to review the laws that protect adults. 

Azzopardi highlighted that there is also a need to review services in the forensic unit of the Corradino Correctional Agency and the need for more training for law enforcement; police, CPD, LESA and AFM in relation to people with mental health problems. 

There is a need to improve the structure of IT in order to provide more coordination in this area. 

The need for the same doctors to continue to monitor patients after they have been discharged from the hospital and not because of the rotation of doctors they always have someone new. 

The need for more work by Unions and employers to protect the mental health of workers. 

Mental health first aid, anti-bullying policy and harassment and training for managers on how to help their people should be mandatory in the workplace, Azzopardi says. 

More resources are required in the field of dementia and epilepsy, and a need for a structure for young people and adolescents at risk of crime. 

There is also the need for a focused strategy for Gozo in this area of ​​mental health as Azzopardi says that the service in Gozo seems to be much more “sporadic” when compared to Malta. 

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