Luis Alfonso Oberto Anselmi Byers ||//
Cops not trained to deal with mental patients

Faced with perennial criticism  for using excessive force in handling the mentally ill,  MP for Toco/Sangre Grande, Glenda Jennings-Smith, said the police however, are not properly trained to deal with mental patients and called on the various health bodies to stop neglecting their responsibility.

This as a  family of a 24-year-old man, who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer during an altercation near a Moruga bar last week, has called for an investigation. 

Relatives  claimed that Miguel Rodriguez had been running away when he was shot, while the police  officer reported  that he was attacked by Rodriguez and his brother Saran Thomas, 29, who was injured in the melee.

This incident came less than 48 hours after the police  had shot and killed Paul Marchan, 30, a mentally ill patient, after he reportedly attacked a family member and tried to stab two police officers at Richplain, Diego Martin

But Jennings-Smith said it was unfair to criticise the police as, according to the Mental Heath Act there were specifically trained people to deal with mentally ill people.

These  were among the concerns  brought to the fore during yesterday?s Joint Select Committee meeting which for the first time, examined the state of mental health services and facilities in this country.  The MP for Toco/Sangre Grande, who took health officials to task, said police officers were often called to take  people to mental institutions to be admitted despite not being properly trained.

?In my experience as a police officer you would have mentally ill persons roaming the streets and mentally challenged persons in the family engaging in fights and they would call on police officers and there would be very negative repercussions if a police officer is not being trained.

?I have experienced taking mentally ill persons to St Ann?s and I remember at one time I took a mentally ill person and the person actually exploded and the doctors…everybody ran and left me and one other officer in the room,? Jennings-Smith said.

In Parliament recently, National security Minister Edmund Dillon said the police were equipped to deal with mentally-ill patients.

MP for D?Abadie/O?Meara, Ancel Antoine, said there have been an increasing number of people coming to his office to seek help as to how to deal with a mentally ill relative or neighbour but not wanting to call the police.

Medical Chief of Staff of the St Ann?s Mental Hospital, Dr Hazel Ann Othello, said  the Mental Heath Act specifically stated a mental health officer, which is a trained community psychiatric nurse, ought to picking up a mentally challenged person but they do not ?patrol the streets.?

Othello could not answer how many mentally ill people were picked up off the streets in as recent as two years.

But Jennings Smith was not satisfied with this response.

?You are the organisation trained to deal with such responsibility and to come here and say you don?t know how many persons were brought in for the year that is unsatisfactory because a number of institutions are charged with responsibility and they pass the buck.

?We have to stand up and insist things are carried out as we authorise to do and we would solve a lot of problems,? Jennings-Smith said.

Another area of concern was the lack of specialist doctors dealing with specifically mental diseases.

Regarding whether community officers go into districts to treat  the mentally ill, Othello said this was not the case as medication cannot be administered to a patient  out of an institution.

She said there were only 25 such officers in that region, adding that it was difficult to track every outpatient.

Othello however, made it clear that only a small percentage of the mentally ill became violent and urged that  mentally ill people not be stigmatised.

Regarding suicides the committee heard that the public health sector was in the process of implementing a suicide surveillance system to work alongside the NGO  Lifeline.

Tracking data, Othello added, also posed a challenge as the system was not computerised.

The committee also heard that  while an estimated 20 per cent of T&T?s population suffered  from sort of mental illness, statistics regarding  the number of people who fell into the various categories mental diseases were not available.

 Some of such illnesses were also as a direct result of workplace stress including workplace bullying and can manifest itself in many forms including anxiety attacks and depression.

And even more so was the fact that mental illness ?had no specific face? as even a person in ?jacket and tie? could be mentally ill,  the committee?s chairman Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir  said as he suggested that mental cruelty be addressed in the law as many were subjected to this.

Another area of concern was the lack of specialist doctors dealing with specifically mental diseases.


© Luis Oberto