Hefty fines proposed for people who abuse, abandon persons with mental illness
The local health authorities, through a new Mental Health Protection and Promotion Bill, are seeking to make mental health services more accessible to all individuals while simultaneously safeguarding individuals’ human rights.
This new bill, which had been talked about for quite some time, was tabled by Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony during Wednesday’s sitting of the National Assembly.
According to the bill, it is expected to cater for mental health care and treatment for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of those persons during the delivery of mental health care.
It further states that mental health services shall be equitable and accessible to all persons living in Guyana.
Importantly, the bill emphasises that individuals in need of mental health care shall not be discriminated against, have a right to live and be treated in a community, and have rights to their respect, human dignity and privacy.
The bill also states that a Mental Health Board, comprising 11 members, should be established.
The members of the Board shall include: a psychiatrist, an attorney-at-law nominated by the Attorney General; a person nominated by the Minister responsible for Human Services and Social Security; a person nominated by the medical profession; a social worker or counsellor; a person with a background in clinical psychology; a human rights specialist; the Chief Medical Officer; the Chief Nursing Officer; a user of mental health services and a family member or caregiver of a person with mental illness.
The Health Minister shall appoint one of the Board Members as Chairperson.
This Board is expected to have numerous functions including: setting criteria and standards for specific mental health care services, interventions and necessary treatments; inspecting facilities; advising the minister; and reviewing and investigating complaints.
Meanwhile, another key component of the bill is the hefty fines for various offences. For example, any person who commits any act of cruelty to, abuse or wilful neglect of any person with a mental illness is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one million dollars or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
An individual who intentionally abandons a person with a mental illness in their custody, care or protection is also liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one million dollars or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
Offences including the interference or obstruction of duties outlined in the bill, wilfully making false or misleading statements and the ignorance of a victim’s mental illness are also catered for.
Once debated and subsequently passed, this bill will replace the Mental Hospital Ordinance of 1930.
Last year, the Health Minister lamented the “slow movement” on reforming outdated mental health laws. Commenting on the 1930 Ordinance, the Health Minister said that it was “problematic” due to its classifications of mental health.
“…the terminology is not in keeping with what we would like to see in a modern mental health architecture and these things have to be changed,” he emphasised.
The new bill outlines the determination of mental illness, capacity and consent.
While this bill has been tabled, Dr. Anthony noted previously that the local authorities were crafting a new Suicide Prevention Bill as well. This bill, which has not yet been tabled, is expected to decrminalise suicide in Guyana and outline improved suicide prevention strategies.