The GMWS held a public meeting in John Mackintosh Hall on 18th February. The Society was interested in getting feedback from service users and family/friends as to what issues, regarding mental health provision, they considered to be a priority.
The Society said it has acknowledged that several steps had been taken in recent months to improve mental health services in Gibraltar, and warmly welcomed these. At the start of the evening the ways in which mental health services had been expanded were mentioned, eg the appointment of a psychologist based in Ocean Views; the creation of a Child and Adolescent Mental Health unit at the start of the year; the commitment to employ four school counsellors and the creation of a post for a Mental Health Matron. These, and other measures, were considered to be very clear signs that mental health was being taken more seriously than in the past. However, it was made clear by those attending the meeting that much still has to be done to make people feel that their mental health needs are being properly met.
Many different issues were raised in the course of the evening, ranging from concerns about lack of continuity in medical care to questions as to why there are no social workers specifically for mental health. A number of people shared problematic experiences they had had with the service. They highlighted the difficulties in accessing help at times and stated that signposting needs to be much clearer. The need for easily accessible information on all services pertaining to mental health is a matter which the Society has raised with more than one Minister for Health. 'We have voiced the opinion that all this information could be available in Coaling Island., where the Community Mental Health Team is based. Service users repeatedly make the point to us that negotiating mental health service provision is at times very difficult. Measures should be taken to make it easy for the public to access this provision.'
Another issue which those present were unanimous about was the need to establish a separate procedure that would deal with a mental health emergency. At the moment, somebody experiencing an acute mental health problem, such as a psychotic episode, is still expected to go through the normal AE channel. The last time that the Society brought up this point with Minister Costa, he suggested that one mental health professional should form part of the EA team at all times. This individual would then be able to attend to somebody coming to AE with an acute mental health issue. At the time, the Society thought that this would provide a much better service but when this suggestion was put to those attending the meeting, it was felt that this did not go far enough. They felt that this would still involve hanging around, both outside and inside AE, for an unacceptable number of hours. Somebody spoke of how a family member had had to wait for 5hrs before the relevant notes were brought over from Coaling Island. Service users felt that there needs to be a separate procedure exclusively for people in this category, which keeps waiting times to a minimum, protects confidentiality and eases, rather than exacerbates, an already very difficult situation.
Care in the community, or the lack of it, was another main area of concern. It was felt very strongly that the provision of sheltered accommodation had to be considerably extended. Although progress has undoubtedly been made in this sphere also - there are now two flats in the community which cater for two females and two males, respectively, as well as two rehabilitation flats in Ocean Views - this was not considered nearly enough. There are a number of individuals who live in the community on their own, without the necessary support, who would greatly benefit from sheltered accommodation. It was felt that they would then be able to live in a more integrated and regulated way which would give them a better quality of life. The opinion was also expressed that when a service user was discharged from OV, they did not get the support in the community that was required for the best possible transition. In relation to this subject the matter of supported employment and disability benefits were also raised; both areas are considered to require attention.
The concerns which were raised in the public meeting echo those which individuals bring to the Society time and time again. For this reason, the GMWS have said they shall continue to lobby the Government on these matters, as well as on a number of other issues which have previously been prioritised.