Govt looking to revise Mental Health Act

Ministry of Health officials plan to revise the Mental Health Act to restore rights to persons with mental illnesses, according to Ministry of Health Registrar Dr. Philip Swann.

The act currently states that a Supreme Court judge has jurisdiction, after considering medical evidence, of managing or administering the property and affairs of a person with a mental disorder.

“When the law was crafted in 1969, mental health was poorly understood and the thrust of laws created around that time was really how to protect communities from persons who have mental illnesses,” Swann said yesterday.

“Keep them locked away and keep us safe, so to speak. As time has gone on, the realization is that persons with mental health illnesses are not different than persons with other types of illnesses like hypertension and diabetes.

“If you’re taking medication, you should be fine. Not because you have a mental health diagnosis means you should be locked away from society and treated as less than and have your rights stripped.

“So, a lot of that is reflected in the present legislation. We want to restore those rights to the individual. So, if you had a mental health challenge in the past, that shouldn’t disqualify you from getting married, from having property and disposing of that property when you want to dispose of it.”

Swann said the ministry accepted the assistance of consultants from the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation (CNMF) in July to frame the process of reviewing the legislation.

The ministry recently conducted a two-day workshop during the CNMF’s visit where officials began identifying weaknesses in the Mental Health Act.

Swann said a committee, with representatives from the Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Health, the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, the Bahamas Psychological Association and the Department of Social Services, has been set up to review the act.

“Part of that revision process helps us to appreciate that we do not necessarily represent or account for all of the mental health professionals in our country in terms of regulation and licensing,” he said.

“So, we’ll [also] have to redefine who is a mental health professional and work with the heath professions council (The Bahamas Health Professions Council) to regulate them and bring them into a space where they can be tapped as official resources for the country.”

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