$1M fine, 6 months’ jail proposed for caregivers who abandon mentally-ill persons

– abusers will also be harshly punished

By Jarryl Bryan

In Guyana, the mentally-ill can be seen wandering around and sleeping on sidewalks. To all intents and purposes, these persons appear to have been abandoned by their relatives and caregivers.
However, the new Mental Health Protection and Promotion Bill 2022, Bill No. 7 of 2022, seeks to address this neglect with hefty fines and jail time for those who abandon their mentally-ill relatives or anyone in their care.
The bill was presented by Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony during the 46th sitting of the National Assembly on Wednesday. The various offences and penalties on summary conviction are laid out under Part VIII of the bill. It is also explained that ignorance is no excuse… that is, those accused of offences under the law cannot claim to have been unaware that the person was suffering from a mental illness.
Section 61 of the bill states, “any person who commits any act of cruelty to, abuse or willful neglect of, any person with a mental illness commits an offence, and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one million dollars, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months”.

Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony presenting the bill on Wednesday

Section 62 goes further in describing what abandonment constitutes. It states that “any person, who intentionally abandons a person with mental illness that is in their custody, care or protection commits an offence, and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of one million dollars, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months”.
Other offences include interfering or obstructing any person carrying out their duties under the Act, or making a false or misleading statement in any application submitted under the Act. These two offences attract, on summary conviction, a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
Rather than abandon their relatives or those in their care, caregivers are instead encouraged, in section 41 of the bill, to request the nearest health facility to send someone to assess the patient at home…if the patient is unwilling to go to the facility, and if, in the caregiver’s opinion, the mental illness is too severe to be cared for at home.
Section 41 (2) states: “Where a request is received under subsection (1), a medical practitioner shall visit the person with a mental illness and make an assessment. (3) Where the medical practitioner, on assessment of the person, is of the opinion that the person has a mental illness and is neglecting himself or herself to an extent that puts the person’s life or the safety of others at risk, the medical practitioner may request a Police officer for assistance in moving the person to the nearest mental health facility.”
The Mental Health Bill, when passed, would effectively replace the Mental Hospital Ordinance Cap.140. According to Minister Anthony, when he was presenting it, the bill would “provide mental health care and treatment for persons with mental illness; and protect, promote, and fulfill the human rights of those persons during the delivery of mental health care”.
The Minister had further revealed that the bill would provide for the setting-up of a Mental Health Board, while repealing the Mental Hospital Ordinance.
A perusal of the bill shows that this Board, whose non-ex-officio members would hold office for three years and a maximum of three terms, would have a plethora of responsibilities. Those responsibilities include advising and assisting the Minister in the areas of mental health, and promoting best practices when it comes to mental health care. They would also be tasked with inspecting all mental health-related facilities with a view to making sure these facilities comply with the Act.
Clause 52 of the bill states that the board also has to “receive and investigate complaints on any matter connected with mental health care and treatment, (and) undergo a periodic review at least once every six months of all persons receiving mental health care in a mental health facility”.