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Stop treating mentally ill as if they're not human

Published:Tuesday | December 20, 2016 | 12:00 AM


We should be ashamed of the way we treat mentally ill citizens. Though we boast campaigns with messages geared towards destigmatising mental illnesses, the way we treat persons with mental illnesses is reprehensible.

This was what paraded itself in the article 'Lay magistrates treat Tower Street's forgotten inmates', in The Gleaner on Saturday, December 19, 2016. The article laments the reality of some of the inmates who have been incarcerated indefinitely, being unable to stand trial because of their mental status.

While we cannot ignore crime, if a person is so mentally challenged that he cannot be held accountable for his actions, is prison the place for that person to be? Are we helping these persons, or even giving justice to their victims, when we just lock them away indefinitely? As a country, how can we be OK with having a person in prison for 20 years without charge? Have we considered how many of these men could become positive contributors to the society if treated and given a second chance?

I would want to believe that only prisoners with mental illnesses are treated in this manner, but even in the hospitals, patients with mental-health issues find no better favour. It is as if a mental illness is a life sentence, and persons with same have no rights to the most basic amenities.

I must say to the Lay Magistrates Association of Jamaica, good job in making the inmates feel as if they are humans. However, you cannot stop there. Help those who are being mistreated by the system. Though they may have committed crimes, they don't deserve to pay indefinitely. They are still human beings.

To Prime Minister Holness, a country is only as strong as its ability to care for its citizens who cannot help themselves. If we are going to say mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, we need to act that way.

There is no bigger crime than the one we are committing against the less fortunate in our society.


Claremont, St Ann