We all know that the situation of mental health in Malta is far from ideal. The issue is that it is not simply another thing that can just be checked off a list. Mental health is something that affects people every moment of every day - just as physical health does, but somehow, we do not seem to afford mental health the same level of priority that we do to physical health. We are constantly learning more about mental health, and in order to improve our mental health care, we need a constant flow of effective new proposals.
What we have seen following the start of COVID19 spreading so swiftly across the world, is that everyone is living through collective trauma. Humans have been in fight or flight mode since the start of 2020 - coping with the devastating effect of the virus and living with myriad other problems on a daily basis. On the other hand, with the declining state of the global environment manifesting on our own shores in increased temperatures and our ever diminishing green spaces, there has been a global increase in diagnoses of anxiety and depression, particularly in young people.
In order to have a healthy life, mental health needs to be considered in the same manner that physical health is. It is the government’s job to ensure that new proposals are put forward in order to suit the times, protect people, and give them hope, and that is exactly what a Nationalist party in Government will do.
The policies presented by the PN for the bettering of mental health in Malta are vast, and they are still not answers to all of the problems faced by the sector in Malta. But they are a start. An increase in the psychiatric services offered in community settings is proposed - through more specialists and more health centres in this field, as well as ensuring that there are specialists in the centres that are already in existence. Further to this, we will create an emergency psychiatry team at the Mater Dei Hospital Emergency Department - made up of various mental health professionals, not just psychiatrists but also mental health nurses, social workers and psychologists, working round the clock to provide mental health aid.
The opening of day centres is another proposal that would cater for those individuals that, due to any mental health issues they may be facing, cannot hold down a job. These day centres would allow them a new lease on life, and the ability to thrive beyond what anyone offers them currently. PN in government will also develop a specialised approach to those suffering from substance addiction, which would work hand-in-hand with centres of excellence which already operate in this sector to provide suitable treatments to addicts and their families.
Generic medicines and the purchasing of the absolute cheapest version of a product will also no longer be the norm, with a view to push towards ensuring that the government formulary has the most efficient medications to tackle various mental health issues; as well as to strengthen and empower the office of the Mental Health Commissioner to ensure proper consultation with service users and NGOs doing such sterling work in this field. A special hospital wing that is integrated with MDH will also be opened - ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background, has free access to mental health professionals. It is incredibly important that the place in which one recovers is more than just four crumbling walls, but one that is equipped with everything one would need to make a full recovery. This would in turn allow Mount Carmel Hospital to be given back to the people, through its rehabilitation into a public space that prioritises open outdoor experience, culture, sports and the arts.
Earlier this year, it was reported that an estimated 120,000 people in Malta live with mental illness - an approximation which has almost certainly increased during the pandemic, although these statistics have not yet been made available for Malta. Many go undiagnosed and are left without help due to the fear of stigma and judgement. PN’s proposals aim at eradicating this stigma - through a targeted educational campaign and through the true unification of mental health with physical health - thereby normalising it. Without the stigma surrounding mental health, in all manners of the word, not just in terms of the hospital, but even with medication and what it means to visit a therapist or a psychiatrist - and even the vocabulary that we tend to use - it would be so much easier for people to seek the help they need. A movement towards kindness and empathy being our priorities, and the ability of these sentiments to save lives.
We must come to terms with the fact that mental health is not currently prioritised in this country, and this is evident by that which we see around us. Consider the lack of a priority the government places on the environment and climate change; our country falling into the FATF greylist; seeing cranes on every corner and a skyline that’s so haphazard one shudders to think what it will look like in 20 years. Consider the world experiencing very evident symptoms of an environment in dire straits, and the government not doing nearly enough to tackle climate change on our doorstep. Consider that Malta has a subpar public transport system and an even more fragile system of bicycle lanes; the state of our current mental health hospital wards; the stories emanating from the walls of kordin - a “correctional” facility. Consider that there is no effective campaign in place to safeguard our sexual health; that news of corruption makes headlines so often that it’s nearly a full time job keeping up with it.
The pandemic has had a major effect on our lives - people in Malta have faced challenges that have been stressful and overwhelming. Many have been working from home whilst learning to cope with isolation and loneliness, with an increase in stress and anxiety, whilst the government has not taken appropriate steps to prioritise the safety of the people it works for. This is what these proposals represent, that which is evidently absent right now in terms of protecting the people in this country.
A government works for the people, after all, and it is for these people that we must ensure that those suffering from mental illness get the help that they need and receive the care that they deserve. We must work to lessen and eventually remove discrimination towards those suffering from mental illness, and, above all else, we must guarantee that people are safe, and are able to thrive in our country, and in the future we continue to build for them.
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