PN calls on government to stop ignoring mental health sector

Nationalist MP Mario Galea lambasts the government for dismantling the suicide crisis intervention team and not having started the construction of a new mental health hospital

PN MP Mario Galea and Nationalist MEP contenders David Stellini and Frank Psaila addressed a press conference on mental health sector proposals on Monday
PN MP Mario Galea and Nationalist MEP contenders David Stellini and Frank Psaila addressed a press conference on mental health sector proposals on Monday

In light of the ever-growing mental health epidemic worldwide, the government should restablish the 24/7 crisis intervention team for people at risk of suicide, Mario Galea has urged.

The PN MP said that the crisis team, which had been set up by a previous Nationalist administration, had been "almost dismantled" by the current government, which he claimed was not giving the mental health issue the attention it deserved.

Galea, who has spoken publicly numerous times about the mental health challenges he has faced, was addressing a press conference on mental health at the PN headquarters on Monday.

He criticised the government for not having started the building of a new mental health hospital, despite the bad state Mount Carmel Hospital was in.

"The government has been saying for six years that it will be building a mental health hospital, but we still dont even know where it will be located and not even its foundation stone has been laid. Nothing at all has been done till now. All we've agree on is that the hospital should be built on the footprint of Mater Dei, to help address the stigma associated with mental disorders," he said.

Galea claimed that, when the Nationalists were elected in 1987, they had found Mount Carmel "in a disastrous state", so much so that parts of the 1978 film Midnight Express - which is set within a Turkish prison and depicts the brutal torture of prisoners - were filmed in Malta's state mental hospital.

"The PN subsequently renovated Mount Carmel completely," he said, insisting that the hospital had at the time been improved so radically that certain companies and organisations had even chosen its meeting halls to hold their conferences.

Galea highlighted that the World Health Organisation had warned that the mental health problem worldwide would soon be reaching pandemic levels, and would become more prevalent than heart disease, leading to problems such as loss of working days, loss of expertise and pressures on the health sector.

"350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and only 30% of these receive the right treatment. Untreated depression is a factor leading to suicide," he said, "One of our every four people in Malta suffer from mental health problems."

"Suicide has become a global tragedy according to the WHO. Globally, every 40 seconds one person commits suicide, and in two years' time, this will rise to one person every 20 seconds. Moreover, for every suicide which is successful, 20 others attempt it and fail. So during those 40 seconds, 20 others would have tried to kill themselves."

In view of these statistics, he said the PN was proposing that the government restablish the 24/7 suicide crisis intervention team, and that it employ more people in the mental health sector, such as psychologists and psychiatrists.

"We've seen an exodus of these professionals from the public health sector", he said, also remarking that the Mental Health Act, which was drafted by a Nationalist administration and came into effect in 2013, could not be implemented because there were not enough experts in the field working for the government.

He underscored that the government's "excuse" that it needed to find mental health professionals from beyond Malta's shores did not hold water.

"We have experts in Malta already, and we need to increase their numbers in the state health sector, as well as give the Commissioner for Mental Health more staff. He needs more resources for his office," Galea stressed.

"The government has millions of euro to spend on direct orders, but has forgotten mental health patients and those at Mount Carmel," he said, "The Nationalist Party will be their voice."

Galea also underlined the importance of early intervention for mental health problems, and said the government should start a programme to confidentially identify people with mental health issues and give them immediate treatment.

He also proposed the introduction of a mental health policy in the workplace, starting from the public service, which could serve as an example in this regard.

Importance of fighting stigma

Also speaking at the conference, Nationalist MEP hopeful David Stellini emphasised the need to fight the sitgma connected with mental health problems.

At a political level, work should be done to introduce preventive measures, he said.

"It would be a positive measure to introduce mental health screening in secondary schools, so the govenrment can help parents become more conscious of any problem and be better equipped to help their children," Stellini said.

PN MEP contender Frank Psaila, on his part, said that the Opposition was willing to work with the government in this sector.

"We hope the government gives the proposals the required attention, since mental health affects all of us. It's in people's best interest that the government and Opposition work hand in hand on this."

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