Police say they are often the first responders when people have mental health crises: yesterday again, they were called to help with woman suffering such an episode.
In these cases, said Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt, “the police are usually called first as there is often a safety issue as a result of a threat of violence.”
Yesterday they called in Te Marae Ora clinical psychologist Dr Evangelene Daniela-Wong, who took him to the hospital.
Now, after years in which seriously mentally ill people have been held in a wing of the prison, Cook Islands is finally to get a proper psychiatric inpatient unit.
Dr Daniela-Wong said work had begun on the four-bed unit, just down the hill from the main hospital.
In this Covid-19 crisis, with the added strain it places on people, she said the country’s mental health challenges would get worse before they got better.
Health ministry Te Marae Ora had just hired three mental health assistants, to assist the two psychologists and specialist nurse, and was recruiting for another specialist with cultural and clinical competency.
The new unit may provide an alternative for patients including three men who have been held at the prison all year, because there is nowhere else for them.
Dr Daniela-Wong said there had been little support for those with mental illness and disabilities.
“We have people who are in jail because they have nowhere else to go,” she said.
“How do people with disabilities live on $35 or $50 a week? How does that actually work?
“Family networks are incredibly important, and they’re basically what sustains this island, but it’s you’re unfortunate enough not to have them, then you’re in real strife when things go wrong.
“It’s difficult for people from the Pa Enua who come here, it’s difficult for people left whose families are mostly in New Zealand.”
Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman thanked Cabinet for approving the new unit, and the Government for its commitment to improving the quality of mental health services.
“Mental health issues are frequently poorly recognised, diagnosed, and managed worldwide,” she said.
“The new mental health unit provides a safe, purpose-built environment where patients can receive appropriate treatment for a short period of time before returning to their families and communities.
“Support from those families affected by mental health is also appreciated.”
Mereana Taikoko, from mental health support organisation Te Kainga O Pa Taunga, said her voluntary organisation had been dealing with increased numbers of suicide attempts and suicidal ideations this year, especially among young people.
“We have been waiting for this for a long time – it’s good news,” she said. “I see it as a place for acute referrals because they’re having a several mental illness episode, not for long-term patients.”
The news comes as Dr Daniela-Wong, counsellor Mark Henderson and a team of supporters deliver workshops on managing stress and anxiety, in the face of the Covid-190 downturn. More than 1000 people have attended in the past seven weeks, and Dr Daniela-Wong is taking the workshops to Aitutaki next week.
If you or someone you care about needs help, you can call:
· Te Marae Ora 0800 1814
· Te Kainga O Pa Taunga 20162