Mental Health Bill 2022 passed

to protect the rights of the mental health patients

A modern Mental Health Protection and Promotion Bill, was last evening passed in the National Assembly, prioritizing the rights of mental health patients in Guyana.

This Bill repeals the Mental Health Ordinances of 1930, which is outdated and not in line with modern norms and practices.

Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony.

“The way that we do mental health in Guyana, we need to overhaul the entire system and this bill would provide that overarching architecture to allow us to do the overhaul that is necessary to bring the practice of psychiatry in Guyana into the modern world,” Health Minister Dr. Anthony said, as he addressed the National Assembly on Monday night.

Minister Anthony noted that the 1930 Ordinance allowed for persons with mental health issues to be discriminated against on the basis that they were threats to society.

The Standards that this bill allows us to set would pull us out from the dark ages of how psychiatry was practiced back in the 1930s, to the modern world, and therefore this bill is essential for us to move forward and to modernize the practice of psychiatry and to protect our patients who are affected by mental health disorder,” the minister said.

However, the new legislation, which saw inputs from local and international stakeholders, brings a modern approach to the way that mental health patients are treated including respect for their rights.

However, the Minister recognized that the legislation must be complemented by cultural and societal changes.

“Persons diagnosed with mental health illnesses are often stereotyped as being mad, persons considered mad, are therefore persons to be avoided or to be rejected, many families with persons who have mental health issues are embarrassed by this diagnosis and some are even fearful of the patients,” Dr. Anthony said.

The health minister said the negative societal perception of people who do have access to care and treatment can lead to more discrimination.

“…this vicious cycle of how we perceive people, how people do not have access to care and treatment can lead to more discrimination, to more stigmatization and violation of people’s fundamental human rights, very often persons with mental health issues can be denied their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and this is a serious matter.” Dr Anthony added.

The minister noted too sometimes  “institutional indifference” can result in physical, psychological, and sometimes even sexual abuse of persons with mental health disorders.

According to Dr. Anthony, part four of the bill clauses 13-22, is devoted to protecting the human rights of patients with mental illnesses.

It, therefore, aligns with all the major international instruments relating to the rights of people with mental health disorders.

In supporting the bill, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall said this is a much-needed legislation.

He stated that it is long overdue while explaining it is the “most modern expression of a public health legislation in the Caribbean region”.

“This bill goes a very far way in identifying those rights, promoting those rights, protecting those rights and it provides a regime of legal remedies if these rights are infringed, contravened, or not observed,” the AG said.