Calls for overhaul of mental health system

Mental health advocate Chaneil Imhoff
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By Kadeem Joseph

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With the country’s response to mental health issues back in focus following protests by staff at the country’s lone psychiatric hospital, Clarevue, calls for a more comprehensive approach to mental healthcare have been renewed.

Mental health advocate Chaneil Imhoff believes modernising the country’s dated legislation – the Mental Treatment Act of 1957 – is an important start.

“That legislation also focusses on institutionalisation. What we need right now is actual legislation, plans and policies that focus on mitigation, ensuring that persons on the frontline … police officers, nurses, EMTs, teachers, etc … are trained in mental health first aid and deescalating situations,” she explained.

Last week, police announced that officers were investigating the country’s first suspected suicide of the year. A 54-year-old Jamaican man was discovered dead in his backyard in Lower Ottos.

Last year saw a number of suicides in Antigua and Barbuda, heightening calls for improvements in the mental health sector.

Imhoff, who is the Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) candidate for St Peter, has also called for the establishment of a council specifically to regulate this aspect of the healthcare sector.

She said that, based on her research, one of the main hindrances to accessing mental healthcare in Antigua and Barbuda is the cost associated with such treatment, which a psychiatric council could help to regulate.

“It will also focus on deinstitutionalisation. It will ensure that persons are getting the treatment that they need to help them through the particular mental illness that they have and they are not sitting inside of Clarevue or whatever facility there is for 30 to 40 years,” Imhoff said.

“In my few visits that I have made to the psychiatric hospital, I have met patients that have basically lived at Clarevue for their adult lives.”

She says work must begin towards reintegrating individuals with mental health challenges into society, instead of keeping them institutionalised.

Meanwhile, President of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association, which represents Clarevue staff, Joan Peters, agrees that there needs to be greater focus on this area of healthcare.

“I think the government needs to take mental health seriously and see that it may not be a revenue earner but see it as a serious problem in your country and it needs to be taken care of ASAP,” she said.

“I think until they see it’s that serious, and see that the workers need that support, I think that is where we need to go.”

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