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The virtual roundtable was jointly organised by ADD International Bangladesh’s ‘Community Based Mental Health Project’ and Prothom Alo. Innovation for Well-Being Foundation, Dhaka University Nasirullah Psychotherapy Unit and Disabled Child Foundation lent support to the event.

Speaking at the roundtable, director general of the Directorate General Health Service (DGHS) Professor Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam said the prime minister Sheikh Hasina has given several specific directives for the improvement of mental health. Rather that setting up large hospitals, this sector needed to be developed further in the existing medical college hospitals. There are plans to make the Pabna mental health hospital into an institute of international standard. Unless mental health was included in various courses, curriculum and training programmes, this sector wouldn’t improve.

Additional secretary of the health ministry (hospitals), Nazmul Haque Khan, said the draft of the national mental health policy is waiting to be placed before the cabinet. Once the policy is in place, there will be no problems in funds to implement it. He said, training is being provided to one physician and two nurses in every district hospital. He placed emphasis on appointing psychiatrists to provide mental health counseling at educational institutions.

Country director of ADD International Bangladesh, Md Shafiqul Islam, speaking as chair of the meeting, said that people’s mentality had undergone a change concerning mental health and now integrated efforts were required to channel this in the right direction

Deputy secretary(NDD and autism) of the social welfare ministry, Shabnam Mustari, said the inmates of various institutions under the government including Shishu Paribar, the elderly, the disabled and their families, all face mental crises. Effective measures for mental health must be taken according to the needs of people from various professions and sectors. She recommended a separate unit for mental health to be created under the health directorate.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum presented the opening speech at the roundtable. The event was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury. Arafat Sultana Lata was the sign language interpreter.

Country director of ADD International Bangladesh, Md Shafiqul Islam, speaking as chair of the meeting, said that people’s mentality had undergone a change concerning mental health and now integrated efforts were required to channel this in the right direction. There was no accurate information on the number of persons suffering from mental health problems in the country. He recommended a census in this regard.

Executive director of Innovation for Well-Being Foundation, Munira Rahman, presented the keynote at the roundtable. She said suicide has increased during coronavirus times. Unless mental health was paid attention, this would have a negative impact on education, employment and other areas of social development. In place of hospital or drug-dependent treatment, the bio-psychosocial model needed to followed, with importance given to community-based interventions. There was need for an emergency helpline.

Munira Rahman said, most persons suffering from mental health remain outside of treatment. And the situation worsens due to superstitions and other reasons. And even if they are brought under treatment, they face discrimination at educational institutions, in rehabilitation and everywhere.

National advisor (mental health) of World Health Organisation, Hasina Mumtaz, said that the government had no lack of political commitment in improving mental health, but there was a lack of skilled human resources and budget. She said work was on about increasing investment in the sector, reducing the gap in treatment, mapping and other interventions.

Associate professor of the National Mental Health Institute, Helal Uddin Ahmed, said that the condition of mental health management in the country was not absolutely bleak. He placed stress on training to increase skilled human resources in the sector.

President of Bangladesh Education and Counselling Psychology, Professor Shameem F Karim, said if counselors were appointed to government schools, this would decrease suicide, frustration and such matters.

Lead Coordinator of Shuchona Foundation, Nazish Arman, said mental health is on the government’s priority list. Various initiatives were taken over the past few years in this sector. Attention must be paid to the implementation of these initiatives.

Professor Faruk Alam, president of Bangladesh Mental Health Network, said that there were over 100 government and private medical colleges in the country. However, only a handful had mental health departments and skilled human resources. He recommended a separate unit under the health directorate to look after mental health.

Professor Mahmuhur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Clinical Psychologist Association and Bangladesh Psychology Association, said alongside creating social worker and volunteers to work with mental health, the referral system also needed to be strengthened.

Also taking part in the roundtable were Dhaka University’s Nasirullah Psychotherapy Unit’s programme director Kamal Chowdhury, founder and CEO of the Disabled Child Foundation Nasrin Jahan, acting civil surgeon of Bagerhat Md Habibur Rahman, Jashore Protibandhi Sheba O Shahajya Kendra’s district disabled affairs officer Muna Afrin an others.

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