The University of Guyana’s College of Medical Sciences (CMS) on Tuesday launched its Bachelor of Science Mental Health Nursing Programme aimed at furthering research and boosting the human resources capacity of Guyana and other countries in the region to frontally tackle mental health and other related issues affecting persons.
The programme was conceptualised and is being implemented out of UG’s desire to raise awareness and find solutions to the various mental health issues confronting Guyana and the Caribbean Region, a release from UG said. The programme was made possible with support from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) through Dr. William Adu-Krow, former PAHO/WHO Representative in Guyana, St Joseph University and the Ministry of Health.
The programme, which adds to the suite of new programmes being introduced by the university for the new academic year, was launched virtually under the theme; “Maximising the Role of Psychiatric Patient Care Practitioners”.
Among those making presentations at the ceremony were Professor Paloma Mohamed Martin, Vice-Chancellor, Xi, University of Guyana; Dr. Emanuel Cummings, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic Engagement, University of Guyana; Afesha Leacock-Marshall, lecturer, School of Nursing; Dr. Util Thomas, Director, Mental Health Unit, Ministry of Health; Annette Welch, Registered Nurse, Psychiatric Hospital, New Amsterdam and special guest speakers Professor Christopher Wagstaff, Lecturer, Mental Health Nursing, University of Birmingham.
Professor Mohamed-Martin in her remarks noted that given the huge impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on citizens, one of the issues that must be considered is the kind of neurological effects of having been infected with the virus and any other effects that might be associated with what is called lung COVID. She added that it is also important to consider the behavioural and cognitive effects of children and persons being isolated out of the social context for such a long time.
“One of the things I am personally and particularly concerned about is, of course, the loss of socialisation amongst children and in the classroom setting especially for small children and pre-teens, the loss of teachers’ control of the classroom in a virtual setting and how that’s going to play out when students and teachers actually get back together in the face-to-face setting,” the Vice Chancellor explained.
MUST LEAD THE WAY
Professor Mohamed Martin highlighted that there will be a lot of effects and things that have never seen before that will have an impact on mental health and wellness, and the University of Guyana must lead the way in terms of researching, analysing and finding solutions on the way forward.
“The university would want to be in the forefront of not only in helping to create practitioners to support efforts and helping to solve these problems but also be at the forefront of research.”
According to the Vice-Chancellor, one of the most important initiatives, the university has taken is in the area of policy design and implementation. She noted in the last two years, UG has created two new policies – one has to do with mental health issues to guide on how to treat students and staff who display signs of mental health problems and illnesses.
Dr. Emanuel Cummings, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic Engagement, who has been instrumental in the development of the Mental Health Nursing programme, in his remarks noted: “As a university, we consider mental health as an important aspect, long before COVID, COVID has added more issues to the needs of mental health.
But as a society, there are lots of issues; substance abuse, domestic violence and all those things where there is a need for counselling in our society, where we don’t have enough doctors.”
Additionally, Dr. Cummings posited that nurses have always been the majority of healthcare workers and the new programme by itself will create an opportunity even as the government thinks in terms of reducing institutionalised treatment for persons that need this kind of service. He added that his wish is to see a mental health nurse located in each one of the primary healthcare facilities across the country.
“This programme is indeed a prize; it’s a gift that the university is giving to this country. This country needs mental health nursing to complement with the training we started in psychiatry not so long ago. And to make the whole aspect of attending to mental health more, not only affordable, but accessible to the vulnerable population,” said Dr. Cummings.
Dr. Noel Holder, a representative of the Guyana School of Nursing, provided a brief background that led to the development of the programme and recognised those who contributed to helping it come to fruition. He provided statistics that supported the necessity of such a programme at the university level.
“It is a pleasure to be a part of this historic launch of the Bachelors of Science Degree in Mental Health Nursing. We have gone through this process for several years. Today, we have a document that we are ready to launch, a document that went through the policy committee and the academic board and they would have all given it their blessings. We hope that as we initiate this conversation that it will foster human interest in addressing mental health issues in the spaces in Guyana.”
Professor Christopher Wagstaff, Lecturer, Mental Health Nursing, University of Birmingham, has years of experience in addressing mental health-related issues and has been supporting UG with the development of the programme. He explained that there are different ways in which mental illness can be managed.
“We have a huge population that has a really poor reaction to the COVID crisis and we see a lot more eating disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, in response to being locked and having a lack of social contact for the past 18 months. Hopefully, we can generate the services to give these young people the support they need,” said Professor Wagstaff.
Dr. Util Thomas, Director, Mental Health Unit, Ministry of Health provided an update on behalf of the Ministry of Health as it relates to where Guyana is in its efforts to minimise mental health stigma and neglect. He noted that the Mental Health Unit that was launched in 2016 has been effective in tackling several issues surrounding mental health care in Guyana and has several strategic plans in place to further expand the work being done.
Present at the launch also was fourth-year BSc Nursing student and Psychiatric Nurse at the National Psychiatric Hospital, Annette Welch, who expressed her excitement for the programme, noting that she has been waiting in anticipation for the course because it will provide her with the tools needed to effectively support patients with whom she interacts.
Afesha Leacock-Marshall, lecturer, School of Nursing in her remarks, explained that the Mental Health Psychiatric Nursing Programme is a two-year post-RN programme. The programme consists of theory and practice, and it also has a research component. Persons enrolled in the programme will be required to choose electives in the areas of psychology, business and languages. Applications are currently open and persons could use the following link to complete the application process: https://turkeyenonline.uog.edu.gy/srms/student/prospective/application/login.php
Dr. Cecil Boston, Dean, College of Medical Sciences, chaired the programme and expressed gratitude to all the presenters and encouraged those interested to sign up for the programme which begins in October 2021.