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Help us, help them! - ‘Support needed for families caring for persons who are mentally ill’ - Narcisse

Published:Tuesday | May 24, 2016 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones

Carol Narcisse, Co-founder of the mental health support group MENSANA,  is calling on the government to improve the social security system for families who are caring for persons with mental illness.

"Right now families that are caring for persons with acute illnesses can't claim help anywhere. You can't claim that in your income tax release and that doesn't qualify you for PATH, for people who are the poorer end of the scale," argued Narcisse.

"There should be improved social security benefits. So that if you are diagnosed with a mental illness you can apply for some state support from social security; some kind of pension benefit. Families are to be able to claim some kind of tax relief, because they have dependents essentially," added Narcisse.

Professor of Psychiatry Frederick Hickling says while this would be ideal Jamaica is in no position to institute any such scheme now.

"It is something that we can do in the long run but I would not want to put that down now. How are we going to pay for it? You have to cut your coat according to your cloth," Hickling told The Gleaner.

He argued that over the years Jamaica has made some strides in dealing with persons with mental health issues but there is much more to be done.

According to Hickling, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of psychiatrists and mental health officers operating in Jamaica now, compared to when he started in that area in 1971.

Tackle age-old problem

In the meantime, Narcisse is urging the health ministry to address the age-old problem of persons considered stable remaining in the country's main hospital for persons with mental illness, the Bellevue Hospital.

"The Minister of Health needs to stop talking about the institutionalisation of Bellevue, which we have been talking about now for nearly 10 years.

"They need to stop talking and finally bring the stakeholders together to devise the public/private partnership to agree on where the resources need to be deployed, in what kinds of programmes and services and get on with it. It is not being done because people are holding on to their jobs basically," charged Narcisse.

According to a performance audit of the hospital by the Auditor General Department, in February 2016 Bellevue had 795 in-patients and 85 per cent of them or 673 were considered stable based on their clinical assessments.

But Minister of Health, Dr Christopher Tufton, has argued that it is not that easy to remove persons from the institution, as some have nowhere else to go and no alternative accommodation has yet been found.

"In terms of the institutionalised patients at Bellevue, it is increasingly difficult to remove those persons unless a suitable alternative can be found because they have become, in their own minds more often than not, institutionalised to that particular facility or so I have been told by the experts," Tufton said.

Data from out of the Ministry of Health shows that almost 108,000 Jamaicans were treated for mental illness in public health care facilities across the island last year with 1,888 of those having had to be admitted at hospital.

Against that background Tufton argues a new approach has to be taken to dealing with mentally ill person rather than placing them in institutions

"The original model of institutionalising these persons, which was the original role of the Bellevue Hospital, is no longer the policy or strategy pursued even though we do have close to 800 persons at Bellevue," said Tufton.

"So how do we move in the future to try to provide safety and treatment for persons and at the same time do it in a way that doesn't necessarily create large state institutions as Bellevue was originally created?

So the challenges are emerging and evolving; the treatment is evolving."