NASSAU, The Bahamas – In keeping with United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, after more than 50 years the Davis Administration has introduced the Mental Health Bill, 2022, for the protection of such individuals in The Bahamas.
On Wednesday, July 20, 2022 in the House of Assembly, the Minister of Health and Wellness the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville tabled the Mental Health Bill 2022, intended to repeal and replace the Mental Health Act, 1969.
Dr. Darville said he was humbled to introduce the new measure, while underscoring the importance of The Bahamas in doing so.
“I am humbled for this opportunity as promised in our Blue Print for Change to bring this piece of legislation to this honorable house, that would both protect and improve the lives of our brothers and sisters who suffer from mental illness. This state-of-the-art piece of legislation is not only progressive but leads the way globally,” he said.
He added: “This Bill seeks to protect people who have been living in the shadows of society for years, many stripped of their human rights while family members, friends and coworkers struggle to help them cope with human indignity that appears to be imbedded in our society against those who suffer from mental illness.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that mental illness affects one in four people in their lifetime and it is estimated that more than one-third of the financial resources expended on non-communicable diseases over the next 20 years will be allocated to mental illness which is a common co-morbidity of non-communicable diseases, HIV, other infectious diseases including poverty.
“Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of health globally and the situation in our country has further deteriorated as a result of the devastating effects of natural disasters (Hurricane Dorian) brought on by Climate Change and the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Darville said.
He added: “One only has to open their eyes as we traverse the streets of New Providence, Grand Bahama and many of our Family Islands to witness the level of despair many are experiencing in our country. We are seeing increasing levels of homelessness, mental suffering, post-traumatic stress disorders among the young and old, which are currently challenging our social safety net. These are not passing events but live on in the minds and psyche of Bahamians. ”
For more than 15 years, there has been a call for Commonwealth Countries to revise old Mental Health Acts; to remove the focus from criminalization and to align the response with a greater focus on the protection of human rights.
And, more than 10 years ago the Ministry of Health & Wellness undertook to manage the country’s mental health agenda, as a crucial pillar in the well-being of Bahamian residents.
The Bahamas took the first step to adopt the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with the enactment of the 2014 Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act. In section 3 ‘Guiding Principles’, the Act says: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities shall inform decisions taken in the administration of this Act.
“I must say that the current Mental Health Act is not compliant with the UN’s convention on the rights of persons suffering from physical disabilities (CRPD) or other international conventions we signed on.
“It is based on outdated understanding of mental illness, it ignores advances in the care and treatment of mental illness, and denies the capacity of persons with mental illness to manage their personal affairs. It is discriminatory in that people with a mental illness are treated differently to people with a physical illness,” Dr. Darville said.
In this vein, the aim of the Mental Health Bill 2022 is to also redress that inequity and promote and protect the rights of persons suffering from mental illness. The focus is to promote when possible, community treatment along with voluntary admission to a mental health facility. The Bill also includes a provision that supports decision making for people with mental illness and the ability to appoint a nominated representative to assist them with making appropriate decisions about their care and treatment.
“Though not ideal, in the Bill we incorporated important matters pertaining to the management of their personal and financial affairs as well as the establishment of a Mental Health Services Board and a Mental Health Review Tribunal,” Dr. Darville said.
As Minister of Health and Wellness, he said he was fortunate to be surrounded by a cadre of professionals at his ministry, “integrated with institutions and agencies that are committed to repealing and replacing the current 52-year-old Mental Health Act and to address the many challenges those suffering from mental illness face in our country.”
He thanked other Ministers of Health on both sides of the political divide for their contributions to this Bill, and the team at the Law Reform Commission for their input.