WHO releases guidelines on mental health care

Chioma Umeha

The World Health Organisation has released new clinical protocols and guidelines to health care workers for treating the mental health consequences of trauma and loss. Mental disorders are common, disabling and usually untreated, and WHO’s Mental Health Global Action Programme (mhGAP) was developed in 2008 to scale up care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders with simple treatment protocols that could be offered by primary health care doctors and nurses. 

The clinical protocol and guidelines which was made available to the Ghana News Agency by Fadéla Chaib, WHO Spokesperson noted that the body is now extending the programme by including care for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress and bereavement within its global plan. It said traumatic events and loss are common in people’s lives; in a previous WHO study of 21 countries, more than 10 per cent of respondents reported witnessing violence (21.8 per cent) or experiencing interpersonal violence (18.8 per cent), accidents (17.7 per cent), exposure to war (16.2 per cent) or trauma to a loved one (12.5 per cent). It said an estimated 3.6 per cent of the world population has suffered from PTSD in the previous year, the study showed. 

“Using the new protocol, which is co-published with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, primary health care workers can offer basic psychosocial support to refugees as well as people exposed to trauma or loss in other situations. “Types of support offered can include psychological first aid, stress management and helping affected people to identify and strengthen positive coping methods and social supports. “In addition, referral for advanced treatments such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or a new technique called eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing should be considered for people suffering from PTSD,” it stated. 

The WHO guidance said these techniques help people reduce vivid, unwanted, repeated recollections of traumatic events and more training and supervision is recommended to make these techniques more widely available. It said primary health care staff are also warned against certain popular treatments; for example, benzodiazepines, which are anti-anxiety drugs. These drugs should not be offered to reduce acute traumatic stress symptoms or sleep problems in the first month after a potentially traumatic event. It said both the mhGAP clinical protocol on Assessment and Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress as well as the WHO guidelines underpinning the module are available on their site. “New clinical protocol and guidelines is to enable effective mental health care for adults and children exposed to trauma and loss,” it said.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on August 10,  2013.


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