A ni-Vanuatu mental health specialist says his country is only just beginning to recognise the various forms of mental illness.

Dr Obed (Oh-bed) Jimmy opened a mental healthcare unit at Vanuatu Central Hospital to deal with an increasing demand in the capital, Vila.

Postnatal depression is one illness that has a very low referral rate with the MindaCare unit receiving only three referrals to-date.

Dr Jimmy spoke to Dominic Godfrey and outlined the motivation for opening the MindCare unit

OBED JIMMY: Mental health services in Vanuatu has been neglected for a very long time. I think there isn’t that much interest within the health profession according to three actively involved mental health services here in the country, I think most realists deal with the perception of the locals towards  mental illness. So it was in 2014 I think that that’s when I came back and I decided to open up the MindCare unit and start some basic services that would provide some help, some service to the people.

DOMINIC GODFREY: Where had you been studying?

OJ: In Fiji. I did my postgrad diploma in Fiji National University.

DG: So then you came back with this focus on the MindCare unit in the year 2014, how did your focus then turn to postnatal depression?

OJ: We’d seen a few, not too many, a few women come in with postnatal depression and I think because in Vanuatu, mental health and depression is not a very common thing, although we do not know, we can anecdotally say there are people out there silently suffering from depression likewise, postnatal depression but if people here do not understand, do not know what depression is, what depression looks like, what is happening, they won’t know where to seek help. After we found that it’s something that can be labelled as a ‘white man’s disease, as a woman you’re expected to look after your children. So we don’t really know what is happening in the islands because as you know, Vanuatu’s really scattered . What we see is what has been presented to us at our clinic.

DG: Looking at what is being presented at your clinic, you said you only had three cases of postnatal depression at that one time but as an average statistic world-wide, one in 7 women who’ve had children experience postnatal depression, I guess with 300 babies born in Port Vila central hospital every month, averaging it out, that would be 42 ni-Vanuatu women a month that would be suffering from postnatal depression.

OJ: I think yeah because the one’s that we see, that are being referred to our clinic these are the ones that really stand out and their families are really worried because it comes to a point where it becomes really severe. Most of them get referred to us after going through a few friends and a few other avenues trying to find help and we are the last people they come to. Also bearing in mind this is only here in Vila, we don’t know what’s happening in other islands as well, as we don’t have very well established mental health  services in other islands which also have a lot of babies born every month. So we get to see them when they become very severe, that’s when they’re referred to us.

DG: How do people identify the symptoms of a severe form of postnatal depression, talking to people in the outer islands now via radio, how can we help them identify those women at risk, how can we help them identify those symptoms?

OJ: I think the one that you sort of pick them up by would be when they present with their kids as well because one of our referrals is through the paediatrics department, when the child is failing to thrive and that’s when they bring the child in, usually the grandparents bring the child in, when you ask around you find out that the mother is being neglectful, the mother is just at home, she doesn’t go to the garden anymore, she’s beside herself, she’s not like she used to be so usually the presentation that we get from the island would be through the kids failing to thrive, so that would be a way we can spread our screening tactic if I may put it that way.