Stop playing blind, deaf and dumb!Monday, October 11, 2021
What are Jamaicans to make of the Government's blind, deaf and dumb approach to this problem of violent, mentally ill individuals attacking people and, twice in recent times, committing murder?
After a policeman died on being hit by a stone thrown by a mentally ill man — subsequently shot by police — in Linstead two weeks ago, we repeated questions asked in this space in 2018.
To our knowledge the Government did not respond to those questions. Indeed, as far as we know, Government — inclusive of the prime minister, health minister, and other relevant spokespersons — said not a word in public about the horror in Linstead, though the police commissioner visited to voice sympathy.
Then on Saturday, the day before yesterday's Mental Health Day, a mentally ill man reportedly beheaded a handcart operator in St Ann's Bay and was himself shot dead by police. We are told that in the latest case the mentally ill man had a threatening demeanour and habitually walked around with a sharpened machete.
In the circumstances, we feel compelled to repeat what we believe are obvious questions we last asked of Government two weeks ago.
Firstly, when is it okay for the authorities to remove from the community and place in a secure institution an obviously deranged person who shows a propensity to violence?
We have heard in the past of reduced emphasis on institutional care for the mentally ill and more emphasis on community care and that Bellevue Hospital in east Kingston is being reserved for “special cases”.
So, then, we have to repeat other questions:
If someone (suspected of being mentally ill) starts to verbally threaten his relatives and neighbours, is that worthy of being considered a special case?
Or, is it only when he/she starts to throw stones at his neighbours or, worse, starts wielding a machete?
This newspaper has no doubt that the experts are on target when they speak of the importance of community care for the mentally ill. The trouble, though, as all Jamaicans know, there is no capacity for comprehensive mental health care at the community level in this country.
Like other aspects of public health in Jamaica, mental health services are woefully undermanned and under-resourced.
We have heard that police are trained to deal with the mentally ill and are required to intervene on the ground when the mentally ill become violent. But the experience of ordinary 'walk foot' people in our villages and towns is that in far too many cases police personnel are of little help when the mentally ill become boisterous and violent.
Too often, when the police do intervene, the consequences are extreme, such as in Linstead and St Ann's Bay, when the two mentally ill men accused of murder were shot dead. Where were the non-lethal tools we have a right to expect the police should have available to them in those circumstances?
We recall a year ago the Independent Commission of Investigations reported on the disproportionately high number of mentally ill people dying at the hands of the police. So far, as we know, that report got zero response from those in charge.
It seems to us that the authorities should stop playing blind, deaf and dumb.