Mentally-ill and destitute persons can be found walking around the streets of the country, especially in the city. And this has been the case for hundreds of years.
Mental illness is a disease. It afflicts the mind instead of the body but because the mind controls bodily functions and actions, an illness of the mind can have degenerative effects on the physical ability and constitution of mentally-ill patients.
Treatment is available for the mentally ill patients, but these involve protracted sessions and are costly. As such, there has not been any significant attempt at addressing mental illness as a serious public health concern. Perhaps because there are more mentally-ill persons off the streets than on the streets, it is assumed that the problem is under control. Another reason may be the difficulty in identifying from among the destitute, just who are mentally ill, and just who are only simply deprived and mimicking madness as a survival mechanism.
Life is tough off the streets. Imagine how much tougher it is on the streets for those who have to exist day-to-day, hand-to-mouth, without permanent shelter and often having to relieve themselves in public.
As such, there is need for a plan to address the growing numbers of destitute and the mentally-ill persons on our streets.
A few years ago, there was a campaign to remove persons off the streets. It was even reported that some of the persons removed were placed in the mental hospital in Berbice.
Unfortunately, one of those individuals escaped from that institution and drowned in one of the rivers in the area. This raised concerns not just about the institutionalizing of persons, but also about the security at the said institution.
It had long been reported in Guyana that the security at the mental hospital in the past had left much to be desired, since in the past, persons from that institution could have been seen regularly, and unsupervised, wandering all around a town in the area.
A number of questions therefore emerge. What are the procedures that are used to determining admission to a mental institution? And have persons been forcibly institutionalized in mental asylums in Guyana?
There has so far been no evidence that any illegal actions have taken place as regards the institutionalizing of mentally-ill persons within Guyana. But at the minimum, no person should be admitted to a mental home or institution without a medical referral from a competent professional.
Since a mentally-ill person cannot be expected to make a rational decision to be admitted, the laws of most countries usually provide for that person to be institutionalized upon the recommendation of medical professionals. The situation is obviously compounded, since a person cannot be assumed to be mentally-ill, taken off the streets, seen by a doctor, and then referred to a mental institution. If the person is taken to a hospital or clinic and is then seen by a doctor, then the person can lawfully be institutionalized.
But who takes the person to the hospital or clinic? If someone is forcibly taken away to be seen by a doctor, can that person be said to be unlawfully abducted.
If Guyana is to address the high incidence of destitute persons on its streets, it cannot do so without examining the laws and regulations pertaining to the institutionalization of the mentally-ill.
And for the simple reason that amongst the hundreds of destitute on our streets, there are many mentally-ill persons, and how these persons are going to be treated is another problem.
Then there is the financial concern. In a country in which there is competition for health resources, it is never going to be easy for governments to convince the public that more should be spent on the mentally-ill.
In fact, if the average citizen knew just how much money is required to be spent to treat a mentally-ill person back to good health, they would gasp at the sums, and many perhaps would argue against such expenditure.
This is always unfortunate, because mental illness is not incurable; most mental conditions are treatable and in fact if treated early, allow the patient to return to a normal existence.
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