Psychiatric patients living in community need more help

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 July, 2009, 12:00am

The tragedy of a psychiatric patient being charged with murder in Hong Kong reveals the lack of adequate government funding and programmes to support mental health treatment.

Although there are plans to develop a case management programme to better monitor and treat the seriously ill psychiatric patients, this is not sufficient to prevent further incidents.

Officials must consider developing additional treatment programmes.

Programmes in New York could be adapted to suit Hong Kong and benefit residents. With the assisted outpatient treatment programme, court orders can be obtained for individuals who have histories of violence towards themselves or others to receive compulsory outpatient mental health treatment.

An evaluation showed that under this programme medication compliance rose by 35 per cent in just six months.

Another New York project, assertive community treatment, provides mental health treatment to patients in their own homes. Psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and psychiatric social workers make weekly visits to high-risk patients to provide medication, psychotherapy and ongoing monitoring and assessment. There is no time limit. Individuals will only be referred for traditional outpatient treatment when they are stabilised.

This allows closer supervision and increases treatment compliance. Lastly, the mobile crisis unit comprises a team of psychiatric professionals who make home visits to evaluate mental health patients who are in crisis.

The team is able to accurately assess patients and have them transported to a hospital emergency room for further evaluation when deemed necessary. Such a service is able to stop a crisis from getting worse.

These programmes have been successful in New York. I believe that, with support from the government and several cultural adjustments, they could be utilised in Hong Kong and would benefit the mental health community. I think we could see a reduction in the number of distressing incidents.

Grace Y. Lai, New York, United States