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New law to protect rights, dignity, ensure better care, services for people with mental illnesses | 02 July 2020

A new piece of legislation which will completely transform the way mental health, mental illnesses are viewed and treated and how sufferers are cared for and handled, was yesterday approved by the National Assembly.

Vice President Vincent Meriton presented the Mental Health Care Bill, 2019 for Assembly members’ consideration and approval.

The VP noted in his presentation that mental health is the third cause of illnesses globally adding that this year it is expected to be the main medical burden in the world.

“On third of medical expenses for non-communicable diseases in the next 20 years is expected to be on mental health illnesses and one in every four individual is expected to be affected by a mental health condition during the course of his or her life,” VP Meriton stated.

He went on to point out that mental health and human rights are linked in three important ways: namely because mental health impacts directly on human rights, the violation of human rights affects mental health and the promotion of human rights reinforces mental health.

He stressed that it is no longer time to think that mental health is not our direct concern because everyone is at risk to be affected by a form of mental illness thus the question that begs is how we would like people to treat us in such a condition?

Would we want other people to abuse all our rights, steal all that is ours under the guise that we do not understand anything anymore and therefore that gives them the right to do what they want with us?

Would we want to be locked up in a cell in the dark, forgotten and far from other people?

The answer is definitely no but nevertheless this is the faith reserved for many people suffering from mental disorders the world over as they are considered mad, do not know what they are doing and should be locked away instead of being treated and integrated back in society.

VP Meriton said the new law will address many of these beliefs, practices and attitudes family members and society have towards people suffering from mental illnesses and disorders.

“The same level of solidarity accorded to people living with disabilities should be shown to people with mental health problems,” VP Meriton stressed.

Among its different provisions the new Bill provides:

- For determination of mental illness and capacity of persons with mental illness to make his or her own mental health care and treatment decisions’

- For advance directive and nominated representatives and the duties of nominated representatives,

- for the rights of persons with mental illness which includes respect of the dignity and privacy of persons with mental illness, the right to information and the prohibition against discrimination, exploitation and abuse of such persons.

National Assembly members welcomed the Bill and all those who deliberated commended the health professionals who are dedicated to their chosen profession to care for these people, many of whom family members have cast aside.

It was pointed out that increasing mental health illnesses and disorders are linked to social ills, broken families where children are neglected or abused and later suffer from mental traumas which lead to suicide or other mental problems, substance abuse and many such victims their families can no longer cope with them or do not know how to provide care, other families are not playing their part to help their loved ones while at the same time in many families the mental condition of their members are taboo and hidden.

It was pointed out that in 2018 the new cases of mental health problems reported included 65 men, 24 women while 154 men, 83 women and 13 children (four boys and nine girls) were readmitted for treatment.

In 2019 the new cases included 63 men, 19 women while 150 men, 71 women, and seven children (four boys and three girls) were readmitted for treatment.

But it is believed that the figures of people suffering from mental problems which are yet to be reported could be much higher.

Some members highlighted that the Assembly has done its part to approve a new piece of legislation but this alone will not change, overnight, the reality for mental health patients and the healthcare professionals treating them.

They stressed on the need for the government to deliver on upgrading the existing infrastructures, providing modern equipment/facilities for health professionals to feel more comfortable and encouraging them to deliver quality services to this group of people.

Meanwhile, other members also argued that as a country it is high time for Seychelles to look more deeply into the different causes of mental health which ranges from trauma as a result of different forms of abuse to all forms of bullying, stress related to work, relationships, living conditions, financial difficulties and try to find ways to continue to reduce them.

In his right of reply VP Meriton addressed the different points raised by the members and among them he noted that the new Bill when it becomes law will not be a magic wand but a link in the chain of services available to mental health patients. He has called on everyone to do their part in the chain. But he stressed that government will continue to do its part to upgrade facilities and equipment as funding is made available.

The Assembly postponed debate in committee stage on the Bill to next week to give members time to consider two reports on mental health which have just been made available to them.

 

Marie-Anne Lepathy

 

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