By Michelle Sutherland
The Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW), along with representatives from various ministries, is scheduled to meet this Friday to discuss and chart a way forward on ways to address the mental health situation in Belize, including the possible placement of aggressive patients.
Doctor Melissa Diaz Musa, director of Public Health and Wellness, told the Reporter on Thursday, “I will be the first to admit that there is a grey area between mentally ill persons who commit crimes and where they go because if they are mentally ill, they cannot be charged. As such, we do not have an institution like that that exists currently in the country.”
Diaz went on to confirm that the Ministry of Health, in conjunction with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Human Development, has recently formed a crisis management unit to address the ongoing situation. At the meeting scheduled for Friday, the discussion will center on the groups, short, long, and medium-term solutions as it relates to acutely mentally ill persons. Those, according to Diaz, among other things, will include offering more lodging options for mental health patients, including more access to food, medications, sanitary products, and clothing.
In the conversation with Diaz, she also spoke on the need for the strengthening of the relationship between the police department, the judiciary, and the Ministry of Health concerning the violent history of mental health patients, their charges, and whether they are remanded or convicted to prison. Diaz said that in a case where a mental health patient is deemed unfit to stand trial by the judge, the Ministry of Health would not be privy to those outcomes.
“I think there is another grey area in terms of charges, or whether they are charged or not or even remanded to prison or convicted. I am not too certain how that would work, and it is for that reason that we are meeting tomorrow to discuss where these persons go if they are not fit to stand trial because then we would have to find a place for them to go in order for them not to be roaming the street if they are violent. I think we need to strengthen the communication between the three ministries and ensure that they are aware of the persons who have committed crimes and figure out what's next in terms of medical management and management by the police as well,” explained Diaz.
Among the steps that will be taken will be additional training for police officers to respond to situations where mental health patients are deemed to be violent or a threat to the public. As Diaz puts it, while the Ministry of Health is in charge of overseeing the administering of medications to patients, among other things, it also falls within the police's responsibility to assist them. She also noted that dealing with mental health patients is not only designated to one department but includes cooperation from various ministries, including the public, who can assist by reporting any patient who is deemed to be a threat to themselves or the public.
For context, Diaz explained that several years ago, Belize, along with several other countries, had moved away from the institutionalization of mental patients and had resorted to a more community-based program.
One that focused on more inclusive care, with support from families, the community, and the ministry. As such, all mental health facilities that were used for institutionalizing patients were dismantled, except for the Palm Center Facility in Belmopan, which is now being used to house stable patients who do not have a place to live. She reiterated that once a patient is not being violent or deemed a threat, they are allowed to be out in public as part of their human rights. Only when patients become uncontrollable or violent, then the various departments would intervene to ensure the safety of the public.
In closing, Diaz told The Reporter, “We can acknowledge that, yes, there are concerns and we are definitely committed to trying to find solutions to them.”