Yesterday we reported on two stories involving two mentally ill individuals. In the first case, the family of Alva Reyes has her child confined in a small make shift wooden structure attached to the main house in Biscayne Village. Reyes has been mentally challenged for quite some time but when she does receive her medication, she becomes a productive citizen. According to her mother, when Reyes does not receive her medication her behavior and mental state changes. So much so, that her family is forced to keep her locked up. Today, we spoke to Nurse Eleanor Bennett, the Coordinator of Mental Health Services at the Ministry of Health about Reyes’s living conditions.
ELEANOR BENNETT: “Belize is a country like any other who has signed on to the international treaties as it relates to human rights and the first one says that everybody is born with the same freedoms and rights, there are no qualifiers that says that because you have a certain condition your right to freedom can be deprived so that is on the premise that I say that we don’t advocate for people to be locked up. Nowhere in this world you are you going to find people who are practicing modern mental health approaches. In the 1950s because we recognized that sick people rights are being violated by people when they were being locked up in mental institutions many countries began to close down their large mental hospitals and started to have people live in their own communities. That is disturbing yes but on the other hand, not in support but I understand that some families don’t have as much community support as they need and sometimes it’s really hard to manage people with certain types of mental health problems and people may be desperate at times and they would resort to this kind of situation where the person is actually locked inside a building to be contained so that they don’t roam the street or hurt somebody or get hurt themselves. It’s a situation that like I said the Ministry of Health does not advocate for.”
In the second case, we reported that one John Dawson, a mentally ill man from Scotland Halfmoon Village, Belize District is being accused of burning down the house of 33-year-old, Denise Lodge. Lodge and police strongly believe that is was Dawson to set the structure on fire. However, in a press briefing yesterday, Senior Superintendent Edward Broaster, told the media that Dawson will not be charged due to his mental condition. Dawson will also not be charged for the injuries he inflicted upon two police officers who were apprehending him. Villagers are concern that he will hurt someone else. Nurse Bennett shared her view on the situation.
ELEANOR BENNETT: “If I am injured by somebody with our without a mental health issue I have the right for that person to be tried and for that case to be heard because I need some sort of resolution because I was injured. So there is not a different set of laws for people with mental health problems and for people without. That doesn’t exist here in Belize and I don’t think it exists anywhere else so that if you are injured by anybody with or without a mental health problem the duty of the police is to charge that person with whatever the relevant charges are, that is the duty of the police. I think it’s hard for the police to make the determination of who is mentally ill and who isn’t at the point of an injury and it’s not as if once you’re mentally ill always mentally ill; in some cases people have periods of doing well and then they have periods of relapse and so if I injury somebody when I am doing well then I would have to be charged so that determination is not made at the level of the police.”
At the end of February, the Ministry of Health will facilitate a sensitization workshop for senior officers of the Belize Police Department on the protocols in the police manual that was developed in 2014 on Mental Health. The objective of this meeting is to educate officers on common mental health disorders that affect Belizeans living in the community and to bring awareness of different mental disorders that police officers may encounter. The workshop will be held in Belmopan.