Health Minister says mental health remains a top priority
The importance of mental health and access to services to help people with these types of challenges have been put to the fore with the death of Nicole Polonio. As we told you, the 34-year-old was found wrapped in a sheet dead in San Pedro. Police said on Monday that she was bound by the sheet and a chain by her family after having a severe mental episode. In context of this horrible situation, Minister Kevin Bernard was asked about efforts to prioritise mental health in Belize. Here’s what he had to say.
Hon. Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness: “We have been putting priority in terms of how we’re going to address mental health. Institutionalizing someone is not always the answer. It’s making sure that one that those people have access to their medication, timely visits, monitoring, so there’s a whole broad aspect in terms of how we target mental health and we have been working discussion the Prime Minister a few months ago requested that both our ministry, Ministry of Human Development, the Ministry of Home Affairs come together and work on a strategic plan. So Dr.Musa is our focal point in working along with our team at the ministry along with those individuals to push the mental health agenda and how we’re going to target. Now let me say this though, and I was just going to get to that point when I said that it’s not just about those persons we see walking in the street looking lost mental health affects a lot of people. COVID over the past two and a half years brought out the effects of mental health, caused a lot of stress and depression in others but at the same time there are people in the work place that are suffering from depression, mental health issues that are maybe not even known and so it is those types of initiatives that we’re talking about in terms of targeting mental health in the work place. We have been talking about this at the ministry and so there is a policy that we’re reviewing right now we’re looking at the in depth analysis of mental health and see how we’re going to address that but definitely I want to assure the Belizean people that we are doing our best, we’re putting the best together to try and see how we can get the support but of course we’ll also rely on known experts in this field as in Belize we not necessarily have that full capacity and so we have to rely on the technical experts that can come in and guide us how we’re able to push and support people suffering from mental health.”
As we reported, Polonio, who was the mother of five, was reportedly injuring herself and it appears her family did not have many avenues to manage the situation. They told police that after restraining Polonio, they went in and checked on her. Minister Kevin Bernard told Love News that while he does not know the full circumstances, chaining and restraining her the way Polonio’s family did should not be an option.
Hon. Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness: “They can go to any nearest public health facility to get the guidance because one of the things that the ministry does have a mental health unit, somebody that deals with mental health and at every facility there’s these contact focal points that one can approach. A family member can approach and that is where I mentioned earlier that making sure that these people are monitored, analyzed, they are evaluated and if that person is suffering from certain severe mental health issues we need to make sure that that person is given the right treatment. So access to those medications is very critical and that’s why I’m saying we’re looking at how we’re going to strengthen that policy in terms of how we attack and target and approach mental health in our society. It’s a big issue and it’s sad to see what happened to the young lady I want to offer my deepest condolences I don’t support the action that may have been taken by the family. Personally I’m a human being I would not have wanted that for any of my family members. I cannot speak to the circumstances of that I have not gotten any full details about it but what is out there in the public would seem as if the person was just left there taken advantage of and tied up but like I said I cannot speak to that but what I want to say thought at the ministry we are going to be putting a very strong policy together that we will have to take back to Cabinet for final approval which I’m pretty sure will be supported and we’ll continue to work with our stakeholders because these are the people that will assist us to develop the right policy and that is what all of this ties into that whole health sector reform that we’re talking about that has to be done.”
A post-mortem examination has since established that Polonio died as a result of “asphyxia due to freedom restraining measures”. For their part, police say that they will be seeking a directive from the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine whether anyone will be charged for Polonio’s death