IT was reported last week that an elderly man was struck in the head by a stone which was thrown by a man of unsound mind. The incident occurred near the Derek Walcott Square. Photos of the elderly man lying on the pavement with blood at his nostrils were circulated soon after on social media.
Although the elderly man, identified as Benignus Henry and in his 70s, underwent medical treatment, it was reported that he had not regained full control of movement in his left leg and in one of his hands. It was said that Henry was still under medical observation. While the status of Henry has been reported, the status and whereabouts of his attacker are not known, although he would be expected to receive some kind of psychiatric treatment.
Some have made the argument that persons of unsound mind should not be allowed to roam freely among others, even going as far as suggesting that they should be isolated from the rest of society. This argument is generally made on the belief that mental illness is inextricably linked with violence. While the argument seeks only to protect our parents and children from harm, it does in some way further the discrimination and stigma that is already targeted at the mentally ill.
Discrimination and isolation are not the things that we want to be encouraged. Yet, at the same time we do not want the safety of our loved ones to be compromised in any way. The question is… if a mentally ill patient is not legally accountable for a crime, but undergoes medical treatment, can he or she be locked away for what their intentions are imagined to be? Do we suspect mental illness in the violent man as readily as we expect violence from the mentally ill? And can mentally ill people be forced into treatment? Some argue that involuntary treatment is a violation of one’s civil rights.
The spectrum of mental illness is very broad and there are in fact almost 300 types of mental disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. One can only imagine how controversial it must be to diagnose anyone with a mental disorder. Our healthcare system is not adequate at this time to handle mental illness so we can only hope that the number of cases of mental illness in our country remains at its lowest. Although it might be low, that is no reason for us to neglect or ostracise persons suffering with mental illness. It is the stigma which we attach to mental illness which keeps others from seeking medical attention for their mental health.
The relationship between mental illness and violence remains very complex. If we cannot legally isolate mentally ill patients who have a history of violence, then surely, our healthcare professionals need to implement programmes to ensure as far as is reasonably possible, that mentally ill patients remain in treatment. Treatment is vital if we are going to save ourselves from the trauma and the bloodshed, such as what resulted from the incident near the Derek Walcott Square.