Features — 07 June 2013 — by Cynthia Pitts

I am so sad. I am sad because Maurice Duce died the way he did. He is the ex-policeman whose body was found in the river near the Haulover Bridge. Along with my sadness however, I am comforted that he is at rest. God did not allow him to suffer long. At the time of his death, as far as I know, he was going through a hard time. The last time I saw him he was walking the streets, unkempt and penniless.

When I listened to the news I was surprised that no mention was made that he had a mental illness. This probably had something to do with his death. I believe he was not taking his medication and was completely spaced out and was not in control of his actions. I think I would not be speaking unfairly if I would say that it is unfortunate that the mental health system failed him. I will not go on to say who else in Duce’s short life failed him.

I know he wanted to be helped, and he sought help. I got to know him when he began visiting my home with a young female friend of the family. He was quiet and mannerly and I was told that he had graduated from ACC in the top group of the class. I did not know much about his personal life, but I did learn that his mother died when he was a child, and he was raised by an older sister.

In December of last year when he visited my home I saw that he was experiencing some mental problems. He came to me and told me he was hearing voices and he could not “stand it.” I asked him if he wanted me to take him to the Port Loyola mental health clinic. He readily agreed.

When we arrived at the clinic some of the medical personnel expressed surprise that he was cooperating in receiving medical attention. They said they were familiar with his case, as family members who tried to help him had difficulty getting his cooperation. After discussion with the psychiatric nurse it was agreed that he would remain in my home until after the Christmas, as apparently he had no place to stay. He spent the Christmas with my family and in the New Year, thanks to the efforts of the psychiatric social worker, he was sent to the residential clinic in Belmopan.

When he was treated and stabilized, the institution, because I was the last person who took him to receive medical attention, wanted to release him into my care. I had to say no to this as I knew he had family.

This is where I believe the system failed. There should have been psychiatric social workers who monitored him and supported him. He could not work so he had no money, so he needed tangible help He visited me and, as usual when I asked him how he was doing, he said, “OK, I am fine.” I could see he was pumped up with medication. He said he was staying on the premises of his father. At the time of his death I don’t know if he was still there.

I don’t know what caused Duce’s mental illness. It could have been genetic, the loss of his mother as a child, or the stress of being a policeman. He needed help. He tried to get it. The system tried to give it to him, but it was not enough. The treatment of mental illness, in my opinion, needs to be given greater priority by the Health Administration. There has been lots of talk about a support system for police officers, but nothing has materialized.

The sad end to Duce’s life reminds me that there are thousands of mentally ill people walking the streets of our Jewel like invisible men and women who often lack family support, not necessarily because the family does not care, but oftentimes they are not equipped to take care of their loved ones. The health care system lacks the resources to aid both the families and the mentally ill patients. Could this death have been avoided if the system cared more to assist with the desperate lives of the mentally ill of Belize?

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