The Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Network (MHPSS), is an international organization that works to connect people, networks and organizations to encourage the sharing of resources and the building of knowledge related to mental health and psychosocial support. Every month, I have the opportunity to participate in the MHPSS working group, updating like-minded organizations and individuals about TYO’s programs and recent research and findings. We aim to establish a strong network of NGOs who can join together and work to make mental health a more pressing issue for the Palestinian government. Lately, we have been focusing on asking government representatives to attend our meetings, so we can work together in asking the ministries to direct their attention towards mental health and provide more services to the people.
Last week, we had a meeting with the Mental Health Director working under the Ministry of Health, who presented the government’s strategic plan for the two years. The Director shared with the audience the challenges he and his colleagues face in meeting their goals. This includes a lack of financial resources, supervision, and specialists in the field, specifically psychiatrists. For example, the Ministry of Health has only seven psychiatrists in limited areas including Nablus, Tulkarem, Jenin and Bethlehem.
With only these seven psychiatrists, the Ministry of Health faces a problem in diagnosing mental health issues. The Ministry has resisted allowing general practitioners to diagnose mental health issues and prescribe appropriate medicine because they have put more emphasis and importance on psychical health conditions, which do not have the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.
Another point he made was that during the second intifada, they had a special budget to hold trainings to help address mental health issues. Nevertheless, they found these interventions to be ineffective, despite the trainings they held. The quality of the training was strong, but the lack of supervision and follow-up after the training made the intervention weak.
I was very pleased with this meeting, because previously, I used to feel a power struggle between the Ministry and NGOs. But I was amazed by this director, who willingly shared the challenges and opportunities of the Ministry of Health and of the Mental Department in order to work with NGOs to produce better services for Palestinians. I understand that the Mental Health Department struggles to have voice heard when advocating for mental health. It is clear to me that TYO and other like-minded stakeholders and organizations should support the Mental Health Department to ensure that decision-makers meet the needs of its constituents.
Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager.