Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2022. 5:30 pm CST.
By Benjamin Flowers: The Mental Health Association (MHA) is calling on the Government of Belize to take a proactive approach to addressing the long-term needs of mentally ill people who may be a danger to themselves and others.
The MHA issued a statement today following the fatal shooting of Francis Ramos by a police officer on the Swing Bridge in Belize City on Wednesday.
The Association notes that assigning blame in the aftermath of the situation does not address the problem and said that neither families nor the police should be blamed given the lack of resources and the current limitations of legislation to address the needs of the mentally ill.
“Unfortunately, mental illness is rarely a priority and after a few days of finding people to blame, we tend to move on to other issues. This is not an isolated incident – there have been too many such tragic events,” the MHA said.
Kathy Esquivel, founder and current secretary of the MHA spoke with Breaking Belize News, explaining that while she could not speak to the specifics of the Ramos case, the Association feels that the best way to adequately address the problem of dangerous mentally ill people is to establish a legal framework for the creation of a unit that would deal specifically with them.
Esquivel said that the unit would need to be properly funded and staffed with qualified professionals who can make assessments, recommendations, and assist authorities to de-escalate situations that could turn or have turned violent. She went on to say that the members of this unit would also make recommendations for a Magistrate, in situations where the mentally ill person represents a danger to themselves or those in their surroundings, to be housed at a small facility with between 4-6 beds, with some beds assigned as a juvenile unit, and kept there for a set period while a determination is made on how to proceed with them further.
“Again whatever decision is taken has to be within a legal framework. And that way, people who are dangerous could maybe be taken out of that situation until they can be stabilized. That would be better for them and better for society,” Esquivel said.
She stressed that such a system would be a long process that would require the will of the government to get it started and see it to completion.
Esquivel noted that most mental health patients are not violent, but there is a small minority that are, and that often stems from noncompliance with medication regimens.
On Wednesday, Ramos appeared to be having a psychological episode and was on the Swing Bridge with a large kitchen knife. Police tried to get him to calm down but he eventually attacked an officer who ultimately ended up shooting him to death. Police Commissioner Chester Williams maintains that the officer’s use of force given the intricate circumstances was justified.
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