Mental health funding unchanged

Budget adds $1 million for residential facility

Funding for mental health will remain flat for the next fiscal year under the budget under debate at the Legislative Assembly. The budget does include a new $1 million in capital costs to continue working towards a new long-term residential facility for people with mental illness. 

The $2.2 million mental health budget for the Health Services Authority is the same figure as for the current fiscal year. Several recent reports cite problems with mental healthcare in the Cayman Islands, especially with treatment for children and adolescents and the need for a long-term residential facility for people with mental illness. 

The budget puts funding to two of the major weaknesses cited in a report by the World Health Organization – the development of a mental health policy and additional in-patient beds for patients suffering from mental illness. 

A separate report, released last month, stated almost 20 percent of woman and girls in Cayman report being sexually abused as children. Almost a quarter of the 15 to 19 year olds who responded to the survey said they had had suicidal thoughts over the past year. And a third of the almost 1,000 teenagers interviewed said they faced problems with drinking, drugs, mental health or violence at home. 

The report, put together by government working with the Pan American Health Organization on a regional study, warned of high rates of mental health problems among Cayman teenagers, including anxiety and depression, especially among the girls and young women who participated. 

Cabinet recently approved the outline strategic case for a new long-term residential mental health facility, clearing the first of several major government hurdles for approval. The next step will be to develop an outline business case for the center, which a statement from Cabinet said was out for tender. 

Dr. Marc Lockhart, head of the Mental Health Commission, said in a recent interview that new regulations on mental health and a residential facility have been a long time coming. “We do need to speed the process up,” he said, but listed a number of successes in recent years such as the new mental health unit at the Cayman Islands Hospital and the 2013 Mental Health Law establishing the commission. 

Patients who need long-term psychiatric treatment currently have to leave Cayman, primarily for Jamaica, for a residential care program. A local facility, if approved, would allow those patients to stay closer to friends and family. 

A Health Ministry explanation of the strategic outline case stated 10 to 20 patients require overseas treatment for mental illness each year. Another 10 to 20 potential patients cannot go off island for care because their criminal histories mean they can’t stay in Jamaica or the United States. 

Cayman currently has eight beds for mental health patients at the George Town hospital. Dr. Lockhart said he hopes that once the new facility is built the current slots could be converted to in-patient beds for children and adolescents, who currently have no in-patient options on island.