It's not practical

Tufton dispels fear that release of 400 from Bellevue will be done at once

Observer staff reporter

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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A mother whose mentally ill son was shot and killed at the Greater Portmore Police Station last year October, after he went there to make a report, is taking issue with revelation that Government will be discharging 400 patients from Bellevue Hospital in Kingston into community care.

May Pinnock-Mitchell, who was reluctant to speak with the media after she found out three days after her first child, Leonardo, was shot multiple times at the police station, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that she was compelled to speak with the media after she heard that 400 of 667 patients are to be discharged from Bellevue Hospital and to be cared for family members.

Pinnock-Mitchell, who believes that the society is not equipped with the necessary skills to deal with people who are diagnosed with mental illness, said she is fearful of how they might be treated when they are reintegrated into communities islandwide.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in clarifying the ministry's position, said persons should dispel fears that 400 individuals will be thrown out on the streets.

He told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the plan it to place more emphasis on more community-based treatment, but cautioned that the 400 who have been given the green light could not be released all at the same time. “This is not to say that we are going to release the 400 on the road; clearly that would not be practical or make sense,” Tufton said. “It is a gradual approach, where those who can be connected back with family would [be released first]; those who can't will remain in a facility, [but] that would be more in an infirmary than in a mental institution, because there is no need for them to be kept in an institution that deals with the mentally ill,” Dr Tufton explained.

“The numbers are coming down. In the 1970s there were nearly 3,000 people at Bellevue, today there is 650. When I came into office it was 800 plus, so even over the last two years we have seen nearly a few hundreds released into care of relatives. It's a gradual process, and nobody should have any fear about just abandoning... cause that certainly is not the intention. In addition to that, accompanying all of this is the public education programme to destigmatise the whole idea of mental illness because the populace has a particular perception that these persons should be locked up,” he said.

According to Pinnock-Mitchell, she was told that her son went to the station to file a report after he was chased by individuals who had threatened to throw acid on him.

“They (mentally ill) have issues; people interfere with them, so they must expect that they want to go to the police station [to make a report]. I think they should create a little space for them (at police stations), and officers with training can deal with them when they go to make a report,“ said Pinnock-Mitchell.

She said women who are mentally ill are raped and have all kind of things done to them. “They need justice, too, but when they go [to the police station they are told to get out],” she said, as she looked at a photo of son Leonardo on the wall in her office at Denham Town Infant School, where she is the principal.

The mother of four, while noting that her son has been battling with mental illness since he was 12, said the then 27-year-old was killed on October 11, 2017 — a day before the world observed Mental Health Day.

“I don't think he went there in an erratic mood, because he got his injection, so what transpired there I don't know. I was told that he attacked the police with a knife. It was a busy day there (police station), because on a Wednesday relatives go and give their relatives food and clothing. But you hear several stories on the streets. Persons who were there have their version to the story, but the true story is not out because no one wants to go and say what happened,” said Pinnock-Mitchell.

Hoping that some day she will hear the true story that led to the death of her son, she stated that the Independent Commission of Investigation was probing the matter; however, she has not heard anything further on the investigation since.

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