Mother calls for better mental health facilities
The mother of a man with psychiatric and drug problems called for sheltered housing options for people with mental illness.
Carol Burrows, 65, added that mental health units on the island should be equipped to care for people who face more than one mental health problem, like her 28-year-old son Eric Richardson.
Ms Burrows said: “What’s needed is a harm-reduction place where they provide housing, regardless of whether a person is on drugs.
“You could give them a little apartment where it’s just theirs; you would have to have security on the building and you would have to have trained personnel.
“But that is nonexistent, so if a person with dual diagnoses like Eric is being released from Westgate, then he’s being released to the street.”
Ms Burrows, from Warwick, said that she met David Burt, the Premier, and health minister Kim Wilson in May to highlight the need for sheltered housing provision.
However, she added she left the meeting without any solutions being suggested.
Ms Burrows said that, although she had planned to contact the Government again for an update, she admitted that she “didn’t bother” because of the lack of progress from the first meeting.
She added that her son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia ten years ago and that she had struggled to take care of him for years.
Ms Burrows said that he developed a problem with illegal drugs soon after his release from the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute in December last year.
She explained that Eric’s situation made it difficult for him to find help because many clinics in Bermuda could not treat a person with two mental health problems.
Ms Burrows said: “All during these years I asked the doctor ‘is there some place where you can put Eric?’ The answer’s always been ‘no, there’s no place for Eric’.
“I never got any encouragement; the answer was just ‘no’.”
Ms Burrows added that many places that could help excluded people with criminal records, such as Eric.
She said: “Salvation Army will take in those with a mental illness, but if you have a drug problem then they’ll kick you out.”
A spokesman for the Salvation Army said that their centre in Hamilton did offer spaces for people with drug problems and also offered them sobriety programmes.
However, he added that people who were intoxicated or disruptive were denied access to protect people already at the shelter.
The spokesman said that they accepted people with criminal records, but those with sexual assault convictions or a history of violence were likely to be turned away.
A spokeswoman for the Bermuda Hospitals Board said that the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute offered assistance to patients who wanted employment or to learn new skills, regardless of their criminal or substance records.
She added the BHB had some supported living houses, but none that were staffed around the clock.
The spokeswoman admitted: “There is a need for supervised group homes and increased accommodation choices for people with mental illness.
She added: “The ability to have more homes available is related to having available funding.”
Ms Burrows said that she was forced to report Mr Richardson to the police last April after he became aggressive and attacked her on several occasions.
Mr Richardson was sentenced in February this year to three months in prison and became homeless after his release.
Ms Burrows said that Mr Richardson was no longer allowed in her house.
She explained: “I can’t have him back until he’s drug free, for my sake.”
But Ms Burrows added that one of her biggest fears for her son was his safety while on the street.
She explained that Eric had been attacked in August while he begged for money in Hamilton Parish.
She added that the incident happened about three days after he was released from prison and he required four staples to a head wound.
Ms Burrows said: “You cannot help him if he doesn’t have anywhere to live. He’s vulnerable out there.”
Curtis Burrows, Eric’s uncle and a former psychiatric nurse, added: “You’re going to send someone out with a known history of paranoid schizophrenia that has harmed people in the past.
“If Eric got desperate and attacked a tourist, then all hell would break loose and something would be done.
“There would be none of this ‘he’s not ready’ or ‘he hasn’t said he wants treatment’. They’d incarcerate him because he harmed a tourist.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said: “Bermuda is currently benefiting from a review of mental health services by the Pan American Health Organisation and Public Health England.
“The Ministry is conscious of challenges with mental health service provision and is seeking solutions in the context of serious fiscal constraints.
“Adding services requires additional budgets and in today’s economy the fiscal space is limited.
“Nevertheless, we recognise the importance and are doing everything possible to find solutions.”
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