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Emotional scenes at Mental Health court

Standing ovations and tears provided the backdrop to inspiring tales of compassion and overcoming adversity yesterday as the island's first Mental Health Court was officially opened.

Although the Mental Health Treatment Court Programme has been successfully operating as a pilot initiative for the last three years, scores of participants and their families joined Court Services staff, lawyers, judges and dignitaries to formally usher in a new era of therapeutic jurisprudence in Bermuda.

More than 60 men and women have had contact with the programme, which aims to provide constructive alternatives to custody for individuals with diagnosed mental health challenges.

To date, four individuals have completed the programme that employs a court-monitored and case-managed treatment system to supervise participants in the community.

Yesterday afternoon, a packed Magistrates' courtroom in the Dame Lois Browne-Evans building watched how the court operated and heard how the programme had helped participants and their families.

One mother, whose son was referred to Mental Health Court after committing a criminal offence, said simply: “I have my son back now thanks to this team, which is so warm and so consistent. As parents, we must remain steadfast with our sons. Don't give up.”

A teenage participant of the programme, who had just started his GEDs, said: “Before I started this programme I was in a bad space; hanging around with the wrong people, doing the wrong things.

“Two or three years ago, I was facing a lot of time in prison if I kept going the path I was going on. Just this week I lost one friend. Now I am just grateful to be here and to have this opportunity.”

Those who attended yesterday's official opening ceremony also witnessed the graduation of one of the programme's participants.

The mother-of-three fought back tears as the programme's co-ordinator, Kelly Madeiros, detailed her 18-month journey from referral to graduation and the room rose to give her a standing ovation.

She explained how the MHTCP had helped her get her life back on track and develop mechanisms to cope with bipolar. She said the team had helped her enrol in a culinary arts course at Bermuda College and pursue her dream of becoming a chef. The opening was also attended by US judge Robert Russell Junior, from the Buffalo City Courts in New York, who has been instrumental in helping Bermuda establish its own Mental Health Court.

He praised the “invaluable' efforts of the community partners who worked with the Mental Health Court as well as the family of participants for supporting their loved ones.

“With this court, you will be able to have the privilege of witnessing the change in people's lives,” he said. “We have to move past the stigma of mental health, not just public but personal, and show people there is a path to stability.”

Nicole Stoneham, who was the presiding Magistrate on the MHTCP until a few months ago, described the court as “a new beginning” and an “opportunity to grow our people”.

She added: “Mental health is everyone's business, no one is immune. This court is about care and compassion. Without compassion we will continue the revolving door.

“We have seen what care and compassion can produce. Problem-solving courts and non-adversarial initiatives do work.

“We need to embrace therapeutic jurisprudence. It is not a soft option, it's a life-altering approach and it will change our community.”

Director of Court Services Gina Hurst-Maybury, who together with senior magistrate Juan Wolffe, has played a leading role in the establishment of the Mental Health Court also hailed its significance.

“To see it all come to fruition means so much,” she said. “It's a validation to the fact that we can really make a difference in people's lives.

“The courage of the participants is a catalyst for us to do even more.”

Life-altering approach: senior magistrate Juan P. Wolffe, Robert Russell, of Buffalo City Courts, New York, Gina Hurst-Maybury, director of court service, Maxanne Anderson, of the Mental Health Treatment Court Programme, and Mental Health Treatment Court Programme graduate Charmelle Bascome at the opening of the new mental health court (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published October 21, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 21, 2016 at 1:21 am)

Emotional scenes at Mental Health court

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