Parliament debates mental health issues
Parliament yesterday debated the need for more detailed information on the underlying causes of mental health problems in Gibraltar and how this community can best help those who suffer from them.
The debate was prompted by questions from GSD MP Elliot Phillips, who asked about the number of GHA patients who had been prescribed antidepressant or antipsychotic medication during 2019 to address a mental health complaint.
Responding, Health Minister Paul Balban said a total of 3,974 patients were prescribed these types of drugs by the GHA last year
They included 3,638 patients prescribed antidepressants, 775 patients prescribed antipsychotic medication, and 439 patients who were prescribed both types of drug.
GSD Leader Keith Azopardi, who was asking the questions on Mr Phillips’ behalf - Mr Phillips was delayed by weather travelling back to Gibraltar and joined the session later - said that at first blush, the figures were concerning.
“Even with some element of double-counting [of patients prescribed both types of drugs], the number of antidepressant and antipsychotic drug prescriptions is very significant for a population this size,” he said.
But Mr Balban urged caution and said medication of this type was prescribed to treat “a massive spectrum” of conditions ranging from mild anxiety to more serious mental health problems, and that in many cases prescriptions were short term.
He said mental health issues affected many people at different times of their lives and that the number of patients might not be unusual for a population the size of Gibraltar.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo echoed that point and reminded Parliament that the number of people entitled to GHA included cross-border workers and was perhaps as high as around 47,000.
Mr Picardo added that mental health should not be seen as a stigma “in any way” and that prescriptions of this nature were not necessarily a bad thing.
Rather, the important thing was to encourage people to see their GP is they suffer from these issues.
Mr Azopardi agreed that the top priority was for people to feel comfortable to to talk to their doctors if concerned about their mental health.
But he added that the government and society as a whole should drill down further into the statistics to better understand the underlying causes of mental health problems.
And he said too that greater discussion was needed to assess “the adequacy and effectiveness” of prescribing medication, adding that there were perhaps better ways of addressing these problems.
Marlene Hassan Nahon, the Leader of Together Gibraltar, also expressed concern about the statistics, reminding Parliament too about data revealed last year following a question she tabled in Parliament about over-prescription of benzodiazepines in Gibraltar.
But Mr Picardo said that issue involved different types of medication, again urging caution in this delicate debate.
Ultimately, he said, “our response must be led by clinicians”.
A study carried out by Public Health England in 2017-18 showed that 7.3m people, or 17% of the adult population, were prescribed antidepressants.