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Tufton calls for more support for the mentally ill

Published:Friday | August 17, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Thomas/ Gleaner Writer
Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is making a fresh call for Jamaicans to end the stigmatisation of individuals who suffer from mental illness. He also wants the relatives of mentally ill persons to be more proactive in their care and support.

Tufton made the appeal while addressing the launch of the 10th annual CUMI Come Run event, which took place at the Montego Bay Yacht Club recently. CUMI is the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill.

Tufton said lack of support from family members contributes to many mentally ill persons becoming homeless.

"Because of rejection and being considered outcasts, many of these persons end up on the streets," said Tufton. "In a sense, we have abandoned our duty to our family members and close friends and allowed them to feel as if they are outcasts, which has only amplified the conditions linked to their mental instability."

He continued: "I want to make the appeal to all of us, that if you feel like you need help, it is okay to seek help. Part of our recommendation [to address the issue] is to sensitise a wider cross section of society, including specific training for persons, to recognise the signs of persons with mental challenges."

The health minister noted that more than half of the 800 patients housed at the Bellevue Hospital in Kingston could be released to their families.

"The last time I checked, I was told that 500 patients could easily have been discharged to their loved ones," said Tufton. "Bellevue has been converted to an infirmary, where people reside and eat three meals a day, but that is not what treatment of the mentally ill is about. If we are not careful, it confirms the perception that we want to get rid of them."

Last year, the Mental Health and Homelessness Task Force, which was established by Tufton, recommended the construction of a facility to house patients who have been discharged from Bellevue but are still at that facility.