Editorial | Getting sick people off the streets
In the aftermath of recent killings by men said to be of unsound mind, the mental-health crisis has once again surged to the fore, yet there are no clear policy directives on how to deal with these persons who roam our streets in major cities and towns.
Our public health-care professionals have tried various approaches in treating mentally ill persons, with the most current model placing less emphasis on institutionalisation and more on trying to reintegrate them with families in their communities with a vision of giving them independence and empowerment. Treatment options may include any of the following or a combination of medication, therapy and outpatient treatment.
The problem, however, is that dozens of people who are battling some form of mental illness do not get the necessary treatment and wind up on the streets, where they continue to be a menace to motorists and pedestrians alike. The same faces of persons who are mentally ill and presumably homeless are seen nearly every day drifting along our streets and stationed at traffic lights. In some cases, they have survived on the streets from childhood into adulthood.
Incidents of violence involving these mentally ill persons are reported from time to time and may include damage to property or injury inflicted to persons going about their business. Even though people tend to ignore mentally ill persons, there are times when their lives intersect - and this is when the full impact of their plight is felt.
And who pays when a mentally ill person causes damage to a person or property? Usually, the injured party has nowhere from which to get redress. And sometimes the injury can be fatal. Society pays a heavy price for ignoring this problem because poor mental health invariably affects physical health.
There needs to be a national priority to find the resources to move mentally ill persons off the streets and into some kind of shelter, where they can be treated and cared for in a humane manner. The answer cannot be to ignore the problem, for it will not simply go away; it will only get worse.
Nurse Joy Crooks knows very well the challenges that come with caring for the mentally ill. She and a small group of concerned citizens opened a pipeline of care by establishing the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI) in 1991 and continue to nurture some of Montego Bay's mentally disabled people.
While she endorses the idea of integrating mentally ill patients within families, she feels that the requisite support has not followed these persons into the community.
She has identified a need for more mental-health social workers and officers. She wants to see satellite clinics and other intermediary facilities where these patients could be safely cared for in-between levels of treatment.
She has also called for the establishment of crisis response teams and the provision of medication and other resources. Ms Crooks is warning that inaction by the authorities will discourage families from wanting to help their loved ones.
This newspaper calls for urgent intervention in the lives of the homeless, but particularly mentally ill persons who are daily adrift on our streets. There is sufficient evidence indicating that proper treatment and community support can lead to recovery and turn the lives of patients around so they are able to achieve their goals and contribute to society.