If the Ministry of Health’s National Mental Health Commission has its way, houses for those suffering with mental illness could be set aside in every new housing development undertaken by Government.
This is necessary since housing continues to be a growing problem for the mentally ill in Barbados.
Chairman of the Commission, Reverend Marcus Lashley, made this disclosure recently during the Psychiatric Hospital’s Mental Health 101 Series for security personnel, held at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dayrells Road, St. Michael.
During a session entitled: Assessing Needs/Responding to Concerns, the chairman said the Commission recently advocated for this to be done as a matter of Government policy.
"Our recommendation to the [Ministry of] Housing was that homes be set aside for those with mental illness," Reverend Lashley noted. He was part of a panel of mental health experts, some of whom are members of the Commission.
Senior Psychiatric Social Worker at the Psychiatric Hospital, Geoffrey Small, told participants the hospital was flooded with requests from outpatients who desperately needed housing. And, those who did have a place to live, were living in deplorable conditions. He added that the hospital had sent a "plethora" of complaints and referrals to both the Urban and Rural Development Commissions concerning housing.
"My main concern is housing; it is one of the most serious social problems that many of our mentally ill people suffer with.?? They suffer from poor housing, no housing and sometimes when they do have a house, you have to walk gingerly through their homes when you visit. We will continue to advocate for housing because we know the benefits that housing can bring to any individual, furthermore those people with mental health problems," Mr. Small observed.
He noted that presently, there was only one half-way house available to outpatients in addition to three group homes; two in Eden Lodge, St. Michael and one in the Pine, St. Michael.
The group homes in Eden Lodge are inhabited by a female and her family and three males, respectively. The one at the Pine, is occupied by a male and female. Mr. Small pointed out that in the last 15 years, the Psychiatric Hospital has not had a single admission from the group homes.
"So, this says to me, that the group homes are doing something good. The social work department continues to visit these group homes and we also intervene from time to time," he said.
He suggested the need for more group homes since this would enable the hospital to quickly move those from the half-way house into these homes which would be permanent housing solutions.
Mr. Small said before the hospital was footing the bills for the rental of accommodations, electricity and water but, in recent times, they have had to ask the Welfare Department for assistance because of economic hardships.
Another area of concern for the hospital, he noted, was an increasing number of male patients. Of the 1,126 individuals admitted in 2010, 875 were men. Presently there are 507 patients, over 360 are males and 150-plus are females.
He compared these figures to the mid-1970s when the male-to-female ratio was 50/50. "But we are moving to a situation where we are having 26 to 27 per cent female occupancy compared to 71 or 72 per cent males. A number of these males are between the ages of 20 and 60 which is considered an age range of being employable.
"A good two-thirds of those males could access housing if housing solutions were out there for them. They can live outside of the hospital provided that adequate and suitable housing was available," Mr. Small pointed out, adding that an assessment would have to be done first.