Express Editorial : Daily

TWO incidents in recent days have called attention to the need for greater surveillance of, and assistance to, the mentally ill in our midst.

There have also been several reports in the last few years, of incidents in which police officers assumed no alternatives but to fire on mentally ill persons in their attempts to apprehend them.

In one of the incidents last week, a young man allegedly bludgeoned his 83-year-old grandmother to death. And in the latest incident, a man in Princes Town burned down a family home, with his relatives recounting a long litany of unfortunate prior incidents. It was not the first time he had set the particular dwelling on fire and had been in and out of treatment. He has been said to have maintained a practice of terrorising others in the community in which he lives. The relative, speaking in the wake of this latest incident said the man, 48, also does not take the medication with which he is provided, and that relatives have been advised that he must seek treatment voluntarily.

But the protocols as established under the basket of provisions provided by the Ministry of Health advise that there can also be involuntary access, “when a mentally ill person urgently requires treatment but does not enter treatment voluntarily”. What is required in such cases, is the completion of an “urgent assessment form” approved by two independent psychiatric doctors, to the satisfaction of the head of the psychiatric hospital in St Ann’s. In such cases, the patient will remain institutionalised, until the authorities there determine that he or she can be safely released.

In the case of the 18-year-old who allegedly killed his disabled grandmother, again relatives have spoken about a prolonged period of mental disturbance on the part of this young man. He was described, among other laments, as “seeing things”, as well as behaving in ways which troubled his other relatives and family members.

Again, however, partly because of the sensitivities associated with the issue of mental illness, family members remain reluctant to take action towards involuntary institutionalisation of their loved ones. The hands of the authorities appear to be tied in this regard, given that such interventions cannot be forced.

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Family members appear to have a significant responsibility, therefore, to make a determination for a troubled member to be afforded the best care available when the warning signs are as apparent as they have been in the cases under review here.

By taking what essentially has materialised as the hands-off approach, even in an environment of deep care and concern, in both cases family and community members must rue their hesitance to take necessary preventive action.

There are any number of grounds on which the standard of care, and the quality of the treatment of the institutionalised mentally ill have come under negative scrutiny.

But as both of these latest instances have demonstrated, the consequences of avoidance can be inestimably worse, and hereinafter regretful.

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