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Jan 28, 2016

Healthy Living Looks at Mental Health

Two cases this week have highlighted the plight of persons with mental health problems. In both, the persons were kept within their environment, but were they receiving appropriate treatment?  Family support is critical in promoting mental wellbeing, as is building awareness about mental health, says the Ministry of Health.   This week in Healthy Living, we discuss the issue with the Mental Health Program to also find out what is available and accessible for patients.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
Eleanor Bennett is the current coordinator of the Mental Health Program at the Ministry of Health. This unit is charged with addressing the mental health needs of Belizeans.

 

Eleanor Bennett

Eleanor Bennett, Coordinator, Mental Health Program, MOH
“The approach of the Ministry of Health is to make mental healthcare access, especially at the level of the community. And we have programs that address mental health from prevention to treatment and rehabilitation. So everything is included in that. Our country signed on to some very important conventions; one of them is the human rights convention and that means that every citizen in Belize then have those rights. And they have those rights and it didn’t say that if they have a mental illness, then those rights will be taken away. It says clearly that they are inalienable and goes to the dignity of the person.”

 

Earlier this week, the very disturbing image of an adult woman imprisoned in a shack raised much concern from the public. While in the past, mental health patients in Belize were institutionalized in facilities like “Sea-view” and subsequently “Rock-view,” that is no longer the approach to treatment in today’s society.

 

Eleanor Bennett

“My guess is that there are still many more instances where this is still happening. Because we no longer focus on institutionalizing people, people with mental health disorders now live in their communities. So they now live with their families and we have programs that support them so that they live a productive life. Because we understand now that people with mental health disorders can work and take care of their children, I think that has led to people relaxing a little bit and not feeling the need to confine them to a room or not have them come out.  As I said, it is still an issue because many times families feel overwhelmed and not know what to do and in some cases they think that is what they should be doing. That family is a lovely family and I know they love that girl. But I understood that she must have felt as if she had no choice. But certainly, I was disturbed by seeing her locked in there; that is definitely not what the mental health program advocates or support.”

 

In this particular instance, the young woman was receiving care for her mental illness, but it is not uncommon for persons under treatment to experience periods of crisis. Since, this incident came to light, the Ministry of Health has reached out to the family.

 

Eleanor Bennett

“We have reached out to the family; our mobile team went to visit. It’s interesting that in many cases people really think that they are doing the right thing; they actually think that they are doing the right thing because they are overwhelmed or maybe that one caregiver was feeling stressed and really didn’t know what to do. But yes, what we determined was that people were ignorant of the rights of other people. And having a mental illness does not mean that that person’s rights should be violated.”

 

All rights though, come with responsibilities; Bennett took the time to clarify another recent scenario regarding a mentally ill person who committed a crime.

 

Eleanor Bennett

“We provide services to Kolbe Foundation; we have almost a hundred persons in there that have been charged or have a judgment against them that have mental health problems. So that tells me that if you have a mental health problem and you commit a crime, you can be charged. What the mental health department does is when somebody is charged, they are brought in, taken to the magistrate and if the magistrate notices that the person has some behaviors that is preventing that person from answering to his charges, he will remand that person to Kolbe and then order us to perform a psychiatric evaluation. And we have to do it periodically and tell him if the person is fit or unfit for trial. In many of the mental illness, people have periods where they are very clear and periods when they are sick. And so you can never have a blanket paper because a person may commit a crime when they don’t have symptoms and then they can answer to their charges. Their diagnosis then is not a factor.”

 

The Mental Health professional then determines the fitness of the individual to stand trial and in some cases have to administer court ordered treatment for persons who are unable to answer to a charge.

Belizeans may be more open to the needs of persons with mental Illness, but there is an urgent need to look at issues like employment, housing and family support for these persons. Most importantly, we must educate ourselves on the different mental illnesses and remember that like any other health issue, diagnosis and treatment is available.

 

Eleanor Bennett

“They are basically biological problems that need to be corrected in many cases with medications. So if you see somebody acting really out of the ordinary—hearing voices, seeing things—families need to get that person for treatment immediately because these chemical issues are corrected by chemical intervention.”

 

Mental Health services can be accessed at all public health care facilities countrywide.

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