Cash boost for mental health

Cash boost for mental health

Dr Amporn Benjaponpitak, director-general of the Mental Health Department. (Photo: Apichit Jinakul)
Dr Amporn Benjaponpitak, director-general of the Mental Health Department. (Photo: Apichit Jinakul)

The cabinet has approved a budget worth 686 million baht for the mental health service network development project to help alleviate a shortage in psychiatrists and psychotherapists.

Dr Amporn Benjaponpitak, director-general of the Mental Health Department (DMH), said the department is providing more psychiatry graduates, as the country has just 800 psychiatrists now.

Many work for private hospitals and some no longer practise. The actual number of active psychiatrists in public hospitals is concerning, especially paediatric psychiatrists.

In some provinces, there are no psychiatrists at all while the number of patients seems to be rising, Dr Amporn said. With a ratio of one psychiatrist per 100,000 people, one patient might have to wait up to six months before they can be counselled by a professional.

"People have ridiculed the mental health service, joking that you make the appointment in this life, but you get to see the doctor in the next life," said Dr Amporn.

Even though the World Health Organization recommends one psychiatrist for every 10,000 people, she said Thailand might not be able to reach that number. "We will have to spend at least 10 years providing five times the number of psychiatry graduates that we do today to meet the WHO recommendations," she added.

Dr Amporn said struggles with inadequate mental health services stem not just from doctor shortages, but also a lack of societal welfare. While mental illness is a growing problem, proactive approaches geared towards building a strong community or preventive measures are limited.

Dr Amporn said workers serving in mental health services are also underpaid. She said staff who work on the mental health hotline handle serious mental illnesses -- such as suicidal thoughts -- on a daily basis. However, the National Health Security Office still deems their job to be clerical work and only worth general pay.

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