Rise in mental health cases creates concern

During a recent information-sharing session at the Cayman Islands Hospital, those providing care for mental health patients said there has been a significant increase in reported cases, although no statistics are yet available to quantify the rise.

Dr. Marc Lockhart, chairman of the Cayman Islands Mental Health Commission, said he believes cases may have increased as much as 30 percent in the past 12 months. Very often, he said, the short-term mental health unit at Cayman Islands Hospital is not able to handle the volume of patients.

“We have eight beds and have been running at capacity for four to eight months,” Dr. Lockhart said. “The number of completed suicides is up. We’re seeing large numbers of [intentional] overdose cases. Numbers of self harm are increasing.”

He said he has also observed a disproportionate rise in cases involving young people.

“We’re seeing it across all age groups,” he said, “but the demographic more affected is youth and adolescents.”

In the past, he said, he might see one patient from that age group in several months. Now, two or three come in per month.

The increase appears to be a continuing trend. A report in 2017 said the incidence of mental disorders in the islands grew by 67 percent between 2006 and 2016.

Dr. Lockhart said efforts are under way to more closely document mental health cases and to produce quarterly figures to track the number of people receiving treatment. He expects to have the first set of raw numbers at the end of September.

But more resources are needed soon, he said. A dedicated, long-term mental health facility that will serve up to 54 patients has been approved for construction in East End and is expected to be completed by summer 2019. Currently, there is no place to house patients for long-term care. Those needing it have to go off island.

Dr. Lockhart said any number of factors may be behind the rise in cases, including such things as homelessness, inadequate social services, lack of health coverage and other stressors on people’s lives.

In addition to stretching hospital resources, mental health cases are also impacting other services.

At the sharing session, emergency medical responders asked for additional training in caring for patients with mental health disorders to address the increase they are seeing.

“It affects all of us,” Dr. Lockhart said. “It’s playing a role on all our resources.”