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|By Mark DaCosta- A Mental Health Protection and Promotion Bill, was passed in Guyana’s National Assembly on August 8. The legislation enshrines into law the rights of mental health patients in Guyana.
Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony said, “The way that we do mental health in Guyana, we need to overhaul the entire system and this bill would provide that overarching architecture to allow us to do the overhaul that is necessary to bring the practice of psychiatry in Guyana into the modern world.”
Prior to the passage of this bill, the Mental Health Ordinance of 1930 was the governing regulation. Minister Anthony explained that the 1930 Ordinance allowed for persons with mental health issues to be discriminated against on the basis that they were threats to society.
The minister said, “The Standards that this bill allows us to set would pull us out from the dark ages of how psychiatry was practiced back in the 1930s, to the modern world, and therefore this bill is essential for us to move forward and to modernise the practice of psychiatry and to protect our patients who are affected by mental health disorders.”
The health minister noted that, “Persons diagnosed with mental health illnesses are often stereotyped as being mad, persons considered mad, are therefore persons to be avoided or to be rejected, many families with persons who have mental health issues are embarrassed by this diagnosis and some are even fearful of the patients.
This vicious cycle of how we perceive people, how people do not have access to care and treatment can lead to more discrimination, to more stigmatisation and violation of people’s fundamental human rights, very often persons with mental health issues can be denied their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and this is a serious matter.”
According to Dr. Anthony, Part Four of the Bill is devoted to protecting the human rights of patients with mental illnesses. It, therefore, aligns with all the major international instruments relating to the rights of people with mental health disorders.
Mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), nearly one in five adults experience some form of mental illness, one in 24 has a serious mental illness, and one in 12 has a diagnosable substance use disorder.
The APA, in a recent report, states that, “More than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help for their disorders. Often, people avoid or delay seeking treatment due to concerns about being treated differently or fears of losing their jobs and livelihood. That is because stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness is still very much a problem.
Stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness can be subtle or it can be obvious—but no matter the magnitude, it can lead to harm. People with mental illness are marginalised and discriminated against in various ways but understanding what that looks like and how to address and eradicate it can help.”