Over the last few days, I have been following the developments surrounding Claudene Moore and her declining mental health which led to a public episode on Old Parham Road on Saturday. According to reports, she was taken to the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center where she was restrained and medicated but subsequently escaped the Hospital and had to be located by her family. Several attempts were made by family and advocates to get answers as to why this was allowed to happen and they have still not received an acceptable explanation. This is not the first time that this has happened to a patient who had been restrained. Therefore, I am adding my voice to that of Mary John, who has been assisting this family and many others and calling for an investigation into this matter. 

This news is very troubling not only because this is someone who is personally known to me but because of the multiple layers of bureaucracy that a patient has to endure to receive proper mental health care. While procedure is necessary, it must also be efficient and accessible. Our current intake and referral pathway for Clarevue Psychiatric is outdated and in many cases, prohibitive. The blood work and other medical clearances that must be done are not always readily available at the hospital and can fall in the range of $500 or more at private labs. In addition to this, the internal politics that exists at the lone Psychiatric Hospital and by extension, the substantive Ministry plays a large part in the systemic issues that plague our mental health system.

To solve these problems in the short term:

  • The passing of the Mental Health Act must be prioritized and all relevant stakeholders must be consulted to ensure that the legislation is clear and effective;
  • The intake and referral process to the Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital must be reviewed and updated to fit the needs of patients;
  • Sustained Education programs must be executed to educate the public on mental health, mental illnesses and recovery pathways.

In the long term, the Clarevue Psychiatric needs to be relocated to a larger, green space that will allow for proper rehabilitation and create an enabling environment for mental, spiritual and physical growth. The current facilities leave much to be desired and the staff must also have access to a clean, resourced and positive working environment to give the best possible care to their patients. It must be run like an actual hospital and given the care and attention that it needs. This will be no easy feat, so I am calling all mental health professionals and advocates to add their voices to this discussion so that we can inspire action to improve the standard of care and to mitigate challenges before they escalate. 

Our country is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages. Stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against people with mental health conditions are widespread in communities and care systems everywhere. In Antigua and Barbuda and the wider Caribbean, there is a combination of cultural, economic, social and political reasons which explain why mental health has long been neglected. The socio-economic situation has allowed for poverty, income inequality and unemployment to become deeply rooted in degrading mental health. On average a country from the Caribbean spends only 4.3 per cent of its healthcare budget on mental health. This is unsurprising as the economies are structured around two to three key industries, which means mental health is left underdeveloped. The Police Force, Defense Force, Teachers, Nurses, and all other essential workers must be consistently and professionally trained in Mental Health First Aid to be in a position to assist in the event of a Mental Health Crisis.

Those interested in being a part of a large-scale project to improve our system can reach out to 1 268 785 0756 or [email protected].

The only way to make a difference is by doing it together.