by Roslyn A. Douglas, MA
Founder of Central Health – Grenada
Individuals who make the decision to care for a loved one who suffers from an illness, because of genuine love and concern or obligation, at times need a break from the day to day responsibilities. This is called respite. Carers/caregivers of loved ones suffering from mental illnesses are no different. In fact according to Ann Greaves, Executive Member of Friends of the Mentally Ill, respite services for carers in Grenada is not seen as a priority. Additionally, patients who are released after the completion of their in-house treatment are faced with abandonment from family members and discrimination from members of society.
Friends of the Mentally Ill began in 1999 and is a registered organisation in Grenada, birthed out of a need to provide support for out-patients. It was created by staff of Mt. Gay Psychiatric Hospital, the only mental hospital in Grenada. Its humble beginnings focused on delivering food parcels and now has morphed into a group that advocates on behalf of those suffering from various mental illnesses.
“The group meets every Tuesday at Mt Gava Community Center. It caters for carers as well. So that’s one of our successes. Friends of the Mentally Ill have also started a husbandry project, right here at Mount Gay [Hospital] to actually help the patients in terms of their therapeutic needs,” says Ann Greaves.
When asked what type of services would assist the mentally ill in Grenada, Greaves said support from the police, day centre(s), and a halfway house would helpful. The police can be more available to assist when a patient enters psychosis i.e. restraining them when they become of harm to themselves or others. A day centre would provide a safe place for outpatients to stay during the day and get involved in some constructive activities while the carer goes to work, or runs an errand. Halfway houses will help in transitioning outpatients from their time in hospital — into society so as to become independent. If these mechanisms are put in place, it may help free up some beds at the hospital for those who need to stay in-house for an extended period of time.
“What happens is patients are admitted and families don’t visit them. They don’t come back and receive them, so they have nowhere to go. A lot of the patients can live outside [the hospital] in the community,” said Greaves. She added, “As you know [when] you’ve been in a [mental] institution for so long, you become institutionalised but it doesn’t mean you have to be locked up for the rest of your life. You can actually go out and live safely in the community. And I believe that can happen and can free up beds for the most acute patients that needs to be hospitalised. The ones that need to be cared for and the public need to be protected from — because there are times when people do become psychotic and need that service. But when you are no longer acutely ill and you have plateaued, I believe that community services should be in place to enable you to manage and to live a full life and to contribute.”
One of the members of the group, Avaline Mc Clean expressed frustration over the levels of discrimination experienced by fellow outpatients, “Stop the discriminating. Discrimination is not a choice. It’s not an option. Don’t do it. There are a lot of patients that when they come out of [Mt Gay] they are [afraid] to come out into society. They are going to be cursed at. They are going to be beaten, belittled and it is not nice and it doesn’t feel nice. And I don’t think anybody would like that done to them. I just want to appeal to the public do not discriminate, especially when someone has come to the mental hospital and they come out — and the reason why they come out is because they are better than when they went in. And when they come out and the public does not welcome them, they feel closed up. They feel left out. They feel like they are not wanted and a lot of the times they end up right back in the hospital. So I am just appealing to the public to try and avoid that and try to welcome them back. And when somebody come out of the hospital, the families don’t take them back. And they have nowhere to go, because some of these families, they don’t come back.”