Time for the government of Belize to implement a plan to deal with the issue of mental health in our country

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When I was growing up in Belize, the people that had mental problems were not treated with any respect and that is still happening today. Our government must educate our people about mental illness to reduce this disrespect. If the government does not educate our people about this disease, then many of our citizens will continue to disrespect and ill-treat our citizens with mental illness. I believe that mental health education will be beneficial to all of us to change this attitude. 

Most of us have at least one person in our family who suffers from a mental illness and we are aware of the pain and suffering that it brings to our families. A sad experience that I had with mentally ill patients was when I use to play football at MCC Grounds and would walk from Freetown Road through Kelly Street to get to the field. To my left was the mental hospital that everybody in the city called the ‘Crazy House’. The patients with mental problems could be seen through the mesh wire fence walking around on the compound. Some children would curse the mentally ill patients, throw stones and other items at them and laugh at them. 

This was done constantly and willfully for no reason. I told the children to stop but they kept on doing it. One of them said to me, ‘Deh da crazy people’. I witnessed this more than once when I walked to the football stadium. At that time in Belize’s history, this hospital was the only institution for mentally ill individuals in the entire country of Belize, where most mentally ill patients were hospitalized. I knew of some families who had relatives with mental problems staying in their homes. 

These families did not want the stigma of having a mentally ill patient associated with them. Some of these families were considered to be in the upper class among Belize families. When people would talk about a person with mental problems in Belize they would say, “he or she comes from a crazy family”. To them not only is the person suffering from a mental illness, but other members of their family as well. There was no confidentiality kept on these mentally ill patients and Belize has a small population which should have allowed for greater levels of accountability.

 Once a person in Belize knows a person’s last name, they could easily tell who that person’s immediate family members are. Belize’s population has grown to about 400,000 people but people can still tell the family to which persons belong. After I left Belize I was told that the Mental Hospital in Belize City was moved from the city to Rockville. As time went by, it was moved again to Belmopan city. This facility is not large enough to house all the people in the country of Belize with mental illnesses.

Due to this, when people with mental illnesses begin to show signs, their family members usually call the police and they would come and use excessive force to restrain, arrest and imprison them. People with mental illnesses are not criminals and should not be imprisoned because this is a gross human rights violation. The time has now come for Belize to have a Psychiatry Department in all its hospitals with a full staff complement to accommodate our mentally ill patients. These facilities should also have doctors, nurses and technicians to serve their needs. There should also be new proposed legislation passed to punish people who abuse our citizens with mental illnesses.

A person with a mental problem walking around without treatment poses a great risk to him or herself and other citizens in our society. Almost every week there is an article in the Belize news about a mentally ill person being harmed or harming somebody. I believe there are more incidents in which they are being harmed and abused than the numbers that are being  reported. Solving this problem is to the overall benefit of our people and nation.