By Zaya Williams
Antigua and Barbuda is set to experience significant changes in its mental health care as the country modernizes its outdated legislation and improves support for individuals dealing with mental challenges.
For a long time, mental health advocates have called for overhauling the existing mental health laws and implementing more robust systems to aid those grappling with mental health issues.
According to Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, these expected changes could become a reality as early as the first quarter of 2024. In a recent meeting with an international expert dispatched to address mental health concerns in the country, he revealed that the expert is drafting the bill which will be forwarded to him by the end of this year.
He also disclosed that the bill is expected to become law within the first quarter of next year.
During a recent forum on mental health legislation, valuable technical support was provided by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the discussion surrounding these changes was a central point of focus.
Dr. Soumitra Pathare, a consultant from PAHO, visited Antigua and conducted consultations with various stakeholders.
The proposed legislation aims to align with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other fundamental human rights principles.
One critical issue this new legislation seeks to address is the treatment of individuals with mental health issues who become involved in criminal activities. Recent events, such as the shooting of Rashawn Shabazz by the police, have highlighted the importance of addressing such cases with sensitivity and appropriateness.
Another concern is the housing of mentally ill individuals within the prison system, where prison officers often lack the required training to manage their specific needs.
According to Prison Superintendent Colonel Trevor Pennyfeather, the prison can provide medication, but it is ill-equipped to offer the necessary mental health assistance.