Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Peter Champagnie | Injustice against mentally ill

Published:Friday | July 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Peter Champagnie
Anthony Bourdain, who committed suicide last month.
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The suicidal deaths on the international stage of the likes of celebrated food connoisseur Anthony Bourdain, fashion designer Kate Spade, and famous DJ Avicii are a reminder to us that mental illness is a real problem and is not partial to one's economic or social status.

Our own people are not immune from this type of illness. The most recent report was that of a 66-year-old man in the Mountain View area whose death has been labelled as a suicide.

The problem of mental illness must never be seen as one that is the concern only of relatives of those afflicted with this illness. If an active approach is not taken to address this issue, far-reaching consequences can result and will, ultimately, affect those of us who confine ourselves to having armchair discussions on the problem.

Case in point: A few months ago, my wife and I engaged the services of an employment agency in search of a live-in domestic helper. After a number of interviews, we settled on one and decided to give her a probationary period of one week. What unfolded during the first two days left us in no doubt that something was fundamentally wrong with this lady.

Consequently, in the interest of our own safety, we had no choice but to indicate to her that we would not be needing her services. The following day while at my office, my secretary indicated to me that there was a policeman there to see me. Believing that this was a prospective client, I permitted him to have audience with me.

 

Suffered from schizophrenia

 

To my surprise, he announced that he was the son of the lady who had been within our employment for the two days and he decided to attend my office to "hear my side" as to why his mother could not continue in our employment. In the most polite terms, I pointed out to him how inappropriate and unnecessary his visit to my office was.

He defied my thought as he declared that his mother suffered from schizophrenia, but I should not "watch that" as he himself had been coping quite well thus far with the same illness.

The second case in point relates to my last visit to the Lucea Parish Court. My interest was in relation to a client who had been on bail. However, while waiting for my case to be called up, a young man was brought before the court in custody on a case of being in unlawful possession of a knife. The penalty for such an offence ordinarily attracts a fine of $1,000 or 10 days without any recordable conviction, and persons charged for such an offence at the outset are never placed in custody.

To my surprise, the court was reminded that the accused was in custody going on nigh three years, as he was determined by a psychiatric assessment not mentally fit to stand trial, and that his family members who were in court were not willing to take custody of him because of his uncontrollable state.

I recently concluded a matter in the court where I was asked to assist in a matter by the registrar of the court. After a hearing, it was ruled that my client was not mentally fit to stand trial. As a result, an order was made for the accused to be remanded at the psychiatric section of the prison and that monthly reports be submitted to the court on his condition.

Arising from this was the alarming evidence that, ideally, such individuals were best suited for a forensic psychiatric ward. However, since 1975, that ward has been out of operation. As a result, persons such as my client were unable to access the ideal treatment required for their reintegration into society.

It was reported that there were well over 100 individuals who, as a result of less-than-ideal treatment centres and suffering from mental illnesses, are now indefinitely detained, and in some cases, well over 30 years had passed since being incarcerated.

The situation is dire and requires urgent attention to end this injustice.

- Peter Champagnie is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and peter.champagnie@gmail.com.