Modern health care in Bhutan started sometimes in early 1960s. Until then, religious rites and traditional system of medicine were the main forms of treatment. Primary health care system of our country has become exemplary in in the south East Asian Region and World health organization applauds the good work done by our health workers. Mental Health Programme, however, was launched only in 1996-97. Dr. U Thuta, a Burmese Psychiatrist was the first one to work at JDW NR Hospital. He worked in the initial part to develop the Mental Health Programme The following year a general nurse midwife, Tandin Chhogyel, was sent for training at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, India. Tandin Chhogyel became the first Psychiatric nurse and he has been working as the Programme Officer, heading the Mental Health Programme in the Ministry of Health now.

Dr. U Thuta and Tandin Chhogyel formed a team and went around the country educating the health workers on basics of mental health. After Dr. Thuta left another Burmese psychiatrist, Dr. Kyaw Win was recruited and who worked for us for about two years mostly managing the psychiatric cases on OPD basis. 

From July 1999 the out patient department of Psychiatry has been keeping all the records of patients treated here. The total number of patients treated so far is over 3000 with anxiety and depression as the most common diagnoses.  However, it was not possible until 2003 to have a separate separate ward for the psychiatric patients due to lack of space. Patients were mostly admitted at the medical ward and it was quite difficult for the ward to accommodate violent and agitated patients. By late 2003, a portion of an old boys’ hostel of Royal Institute of Health Sciences was converted into a psychiatric ward with eight beds, subsequently upgraded to eighteen beds.  We now have a detoxification unit with 10 beds and a psychiatric unit with 8 beds.  Till date more than 600 patients have been treated in the ward.

Dr. Chencho Dorji came out as the first Psychiatrist in 1999  after he completed post graduation in Srilanka. He took over the Psychiatric unit of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDW NRH). Besides his busy schedule of treating all kinds of mentally ill patients, he also had to shoulder the responsibility of giving technical advices to the mental health program. He planned and implemented different programs and activities so far. Training of health workers on Mental Health is the most outstanding activity so far. Because of the training most of our health workers around the country are now able to manage common mental disorders without having to refer them all the way to Thimphu. In 2002 he initiated and conducted the first national survey on mental disorders, taking three districts as sample. The survey found out that 60% of the households visited had a case of mental disorder.

Dr. Damber K. Nirola, a Senior District Medical Officer was sent to Dhaka in Bangladesh for Post-graduate studies in Psychiatry in 2003. He came back after graduation in June 2006, raising the number of national psychiatrists to two. One lady doctor, Dr. Ugen Dema is  undergoing post-graduate training in Psychiatry in Israel at the moment. 

Currently Dr. Chencho has taken leave from here and is working in Australia.  Dr. Damber is now the Head of the Department of Psychiatry.  In order to fill in the requirement of Psychiatrists in the country there are three expatriate Psychiatrists working in the country, one from Burma and two from Cuba. We now have two Psychiatrists at the National Referral hospital in Thimphu and one each at the two Regional Referral Hospitals in Mongar and Gelephu. 

Development of Mental Health human resources has been slow and difficult. We have not been able to train any Clinical Psychologists so far and we don't have other categories of mental health workers. In order to address this deficiency in manpower, Dr. Chencho initiated the recruitment of Health Volunteers from overseas through the HVO program based in the United States in 2009. Ever since we have been getting regular volunteers coming from different parts of the world.

In 2012 the National Board for Certified Counselors, another organization based in the US has started sending volunteers for three months period which has greatly benefited us by getting their services in counselling.  

The volunteers not only provide services to out patients and clients but also train our nurses and health workers in hands-on counselling skills. Some of them assisted us in developing manuals and guidelines.

This blogspot is intended to showcase the Volunteers who have taken their time out from their works  and come to our resource-constraint country to help us and our people.

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