President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih opened Monday morning a Centre for Mental Health at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Malé.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, President Solih noted the “long wait-list” of people who seek appointments, the social stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and the struggle of Maldivians who suffer from mental illnesses to seek treatment due to the acute shortage of qualified professionals.
The main aim of the first national centre for mental health in the Maldives is to “provide treatment compassionately to mental health patients through a holistic system and at national level,” he said.
With a multi-disciplinary team, the centre offers emergency care as well as outpatient and inpatient services including diagnostics, treatment, rehabilitation and occupational therapy, according to IGMH.
The centre will also conduct outreach programmes in the atolls and seek to raise awareness among the public to change attitudes towards mental health problems.
One in four Maldivians have suffered from a mental illness at some point in their lives, Dr Shanooha Mansoor noted in her remarks. According to Health Minister Abdulla Ameen, more than 2,500 people sought treatment at IGMH for mental illnesses during the past six months.
Establishing a national institute to treat mental illnesses was a target of the new administration’s 100-day action plan. It was a key campaign pledge of President Solih along with expanding the state’s Aasandha health insurance scheme to provide comprehensive coverage and making counselling services more widely available with regional psychiatric centres.
Services at the new centre will be free and covered by Aasandha.
Before the centre was opened, there were only two consultation rooms for psychiatrists at IGMH. Only four patients at a time could be hospitalised at the psychiatric ward.
Private clinics charge about MVR500 (US$32) for therapy sessions and up to MVR3,000 for psychiatric assessments, relatively high prices that dissuade most people from seeking treatment.
In his remarks, the president acknowledged that the new centre would not completely solve the difficulties faced by people suffering from mental health problems.
“But I believe this is a good start and that they will have some relief to the hardship they endure,” he said.
The government will work towards training qualified doctors and professionals to expand mental health services, he added, noting that opportunities to specialise in mental health were offered in the student loan scheme announced last week.
He also announced plans to appoint a mental health care coordinator in each atoll.