‘System failing mental illness sufferers’

  • Battling bureaucracy: Karl Outerbridge has criticised government agencies (File photograph)

    Battling bureaucracy: Karl Outerbridge has criticised government agencies (File photograph)

A man with mental illness said yesterday that there is “systemic” discrimination against people with psychiatric problems.

Karl Outerbridge, a former international cyclist for Bermuda, said he had to depend on financial assistance after his mental-health issues left him unable to work.

Mr Outerbridge said he has “no adequate protection of law” from a bureaucratic minefield and cumbersome reassessments of his mental state.

Mr Outerbridge said: “If a child was being abused, they would have to do something, but with vulnerable people between the age of 18 and 65, they don’t.”

Mr Outerbridge, who struggles with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression, said his mental illness has to be reassessed every six months.

He called it a “terrible flawed” procedure that makes his illness worse.

Mr Outerbridge said even renewal of prescriptions involved visits to several offices and can take weeks to complete.

He added the elaborate hurdles are “devastating” and have resulted in him being cut off more than once from financial assistance.

Mr Outerbridge said his food card, which expired on June 30, had yet to be renewed.

Mr Outerbridge added that he regularly had to hand over confidential documents to the Department of Financial Assistance, which were opened at reception.

He said: “How many businesses do you know where if you deliver mail by hand, you have to open it?”

Lawyer Saul Dismont is preparing to bring Mr Outerbridge’s case to the Human Rights Commission.

Mr Dismont said: “What I wonder is how many people who end up on the streets, who we all recognise, could have been assisted by a system that does not discriminate against them?”

Mr Outerbridge said that mental illness had been protected under the Human Rights Act since 2016, but the protection was confined to “housing and jobs”.

He added: “That’s good, but for the bigger picture, it does nothing.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Financial Assistance said it had “several staff” trained to deal with clients with mental-health problems.

She said the department “does not normally” get complaints about clients with mental illness who had their assistance cut off.

The spokeswoman added: “If a client fails to submit requested documents in a timely manner, it could lead to their financial assistance being suspended or terminated.”

She said clients who lost assistance, but required medication, could be referred to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital’s credit office to apply for “indigent status”.

The department confirmed that reassessment packages had to be opened when received “to ensure that the information being submitted is correct”.

The spokeswoman said: “Documents are copied, date stamped and signed by the person receiving it so the client will know that the document has been received by the department on that day.”

Mr Dismont, a specialist in protection of vulnerable sectors of society, said the mentally ill were “a community easily forgotten”.

He added: “At the extreme end, they generally do not have the capacity to advocate for themselves.”

Mr Dismont highlighted that the system for financial assistance for medication alone included 12 bureaucratic hurdles.

He said: “It would be hard for someone who is mentally well to comply with these requirements.”

Mr Dismont added that reassessment for the mentally ill included approval by a committee that meets once a week, and meetings that could be delayed for weeks if a member was away or on sick leave.

Mr Dismont said: “All of us may need help, and this is one aspect where the system is failing.”

Mr Outerbridge added: “The community needs to stop demonising mental illness.

“I understand they don’t want people to abuse the system and I am all down with that, but for me this is a mentally abusive system.”

He added that the Bermuda Housing Corporation was “the role model — they go above and beyond in helping me”.

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Published Aug 9, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 8, 2018 at 10:55 pm)

‘System failing mental illness sufferers’

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