As mental health becomes big issue in the country, Charine Glen-Spyron (CGS) the founding CEO Bel Esprit says her desire to offer world class services in Namibia was instrumental in the setting up of the facility.
Below is an interview the Windhoek Observer Health Magazine (HM) had with her on her journey and vision for the hospital going forward?
HM: Kindly share with us the motivation behind establishing Bel Esprit?
CGS: Case studies have shown that the follow-up and continued support of mental health patients plays a vital role in recovery. While these services are available in South Africa, they are lacking in Namibia. I had a desire to be able to offer the same services in Namibia.
If Namibians are treated closer to home, where family members can be involved, and professional input can continue, the relapse rate would significantly decrease.
HM: What is your vision for the institution and what role do you want it to play in Namibia?
CGS: The main vision is to decrease stigma and to improve and provide a much-needed service for people suffering from mental health conditions. Seeing that mental health has such a big impact on society and is an economic problem, the vision of Bel Esprit cannot be over-emphasized.
HM: Would you say you have achieved your objective by setting up Bel Esprit?
CGS: Yes and no. The reason for that is we still have a long road ahead of us. We are at the beginning of a new journey of destigmatization and there is still a lot that we can educate the community on in regard to Mental Health and what Bel Esprit can offer.
HM: When do you expect to have fully completed the construction of the facility, and when completed, what will it comprise of?
CGS: We are hoping that the new outpatient department will be completed by end of 2018. Once that is finished the current outpatient department will be converted into a Child and Adolescent unit to address the Mental Health condition in youth.
HM: Kindly share with us your journey thus far in establishing the institution. Please highlight some of the main challenges and milestones.
CGS: The journey began about six years ago and initially there where larger psychiatric companies involved in the vision, but time passed, and I managed to relocate to Namibia and more Namibian companies wanted to be involved.
As a result, Bel Esprit became more a Namibian initiative rather than an initiative supported by international companies.
In this journey the most difficult part was to find the right staff members who would support the project and who have the needed qualifications to make the project work. Through blessings, the right people with the right enthusiasm and passion were set on my path.
As a team, we then started to work on Bel Esprit as a concept and formulising and grounding everything that I had dreamed of.
In terms of other struggles, because it is a new service, there is always the difficulty to educate people on what exactly we are going to do and how it is going to work.
This presents a complication as Mental Health is not similar to other medical conditions where there is a clear outcome/diagnosis and, many times, a clear timeline for recovery. With MENTAL HEALTH it is very complicated, and as much as you have a diagnosis to work with, often the recovery time is difficult to determine.
Be our diagnoses and treatment are more individualized, to explain that to other parties, for example medical aid schemes and to family members, is often difficult.
But with that said, we are sure that we will overcome this by educating the people about their journey when they or a family member suffers from an Mental Health condition.
A major milestone we reached is that we have been in operation as an outpatient facility for more than a year. We have been operational for more than 100 days as an inpatient facility and in the 100 days, we admitted 100 patients. This is a very big achievement for us especially in Namibia where there is still a lot of stigma around Mental Health. We can say we have reached a 100 people’s lives, and that has been a big milestone for us.
We also had a lot of wellness events which we organised. We have worked with correctional services and we have educated people on Mental Health and related issues in the workplace; more than 190 people attended the three workshops we held.
In addition, we have had a number of marketing campaigns and awareness events throughout the year including:
*International Day of Happiness on 20 March. We reached out to the patients and staff members in the Mental Unit at Central Hospital and gave them hotdogs and other refreshments as an informal outreach event just to share a bit of happiness with them.
*World Health Day on 7 April we had a pop-up clinic at the Grove Mall of Namibia to create awareness that physical health and mental health go hand-in-hand. We also reached out to the community to ask what they understood about mental health.
*On AIDS Memorial Day, 18 May, we asked someone living with HIV/AIDS to share with the community the impact the pandemic has on their mental health.
*In May, we reached out to other health professionals to educate them on Mental Health and to explain to them the services we offer as a psychiatric facility.
In addition to the above events, we also did a few school visits to educate the youth on Mental Health issues. Together with this, we have a lot of blog posts that have been posted on our website that deals with Mental Health topics.
We sponsored an awareness day focusing on the impacts of drug abuse and illicit trafficking on 26 June at Wernhill Park. We also had the opportunity to educate people on the different types of drugs and their impact on Mental Health.
On World Suicide Day, we made posters and stood on street corners to lift the spirits of those driving by. These posters had positive affirmations for example: “life is better with you in it”. The objective was to show the community that life does not need to end and that there is support out there.
Bel Esprit is also involved with a suicidology campaign driven by the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MOHSS.)
This is just to name a few of the things we have done.
So all in all, as much as we are a new hospital, in the sense that we have not been operational for very long, we have proactively worked on destigmatizing and educating the communities about Mental Health for more than a year.
HM: Would you say mental health is an area which has received less attention and deserves to be highlighted regularly?
CGS: Yes, due to the lack of understanding of what exactly Mental Health is. Mental Health issues definitely need more attention.