Highlights — 15 June 2019 — by Kory Leslie (freelance writer)
Addressing mental health in Belize

Recently, Belize has witnessed the devastating effects that can arise from not knowing how to address mental illness. Exposure to persons suffering from mental illness is not necessarily uncharted territory for Belizeans. A large majority of the homeless demographic have been known to display characteristics that are demonstrative of living with mental disabilities; however, the concern of Belizeans has been growing considerably in light of a series of tragic incidents.

Various media outlets have reported on the unfortunate incidents that have occurred within the past two weeks. Mental patient Colin Francis had been arrested and charged for attempted murder of Nurse Augustina Elijio at the Port Loyola Mental Health Daycare last Thursday – a charge for which he could not receive bail and was remanded despite his evident mental instability.

The following day saw an even more unsettling turn of events, as Francis became involved in an altercation with another mentally ill citizen, Nestor Vasquez, Jr., leading to Mr. Vasquez’s violent and untimely demise while both men were in police custody.

These heinous events truly depict how unequipped Belize is in the face of handling the mentally ill, leaving the society horrified, multiple families grieving and our justice system and police force scrutinized. It is hopeful that this will lead to the mobilizations of all government and non-government organizations who deal with mental health awareness, to illuminate our way forward as the nation takes on this challenge.

On Tuesday, June 11, organizations such as UNICEF, The Ministry of Health and other partners convened at the Best Western Biltmore Hotel to discuss several projects that are under development to target assessing mental disorders properly in Belize’s youth and how to proceed with treatment.

Two initiatives will be carried out. Firstly, “The Measurement of Mental Health among Adolescents” is a tool that will be implemented to assess the mental health of youths from ages 10 to 19 years old.

This week a sample group of about 30 teens will participate in draft sessions that will help to develop this survey so that the evaluations can be culturally specific to persons living and growing up in Belize.

The majority of the evaluations are expected to take place during the SIB population census in 2020.

The second project, “How to help Adolescents thrive,” or HAT, will entail the conducting of focus groups with teens to gain an understanding of how they view mental health and mental wellness.

These projects will hopefully propel the country one step further towards the collective understanding of how to address mental illness as a country.

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