The shameful treatment of our mentally ill

On Wednesday, May 7, police respond to reports of a topless woman, who had allegedly walked into two downtown eateries armed with two machetes.

They arrest the woman (age: 39, home: none) without further incident and take her into custody.

On Friday, May 9, the woman appears in Summary Court. Crown prosecutors have decided to charge her with threatening violence, having a machete and knife, and robbery (a slice of carrot cake). The woman may appear before Mental Health Court on the first two charges. The robbery charge must be dealt with in Grand Court.

The judge orders the woman into custody, and she is sent to Fairbanks women’s prison.

On Sunday, May 11, the woman begins to scream. She will not stop.

According to a police report, the woman then had scalding hot water tossed on her — presumably by other prison inmates. The water — heated in the microwave in the prison’s common room — scalds the woman badly enough that she is taken to the hospital to be treated for her burns.

Consider the savagery we have just described. Does it not harken back to the Middle Ages when the mentally ill were hidden in attics or cellars or secreted away in custodial cells? Consider the inhumanity of scalding this woman to keep her quiet.

For decades since the modern era of Cayman’s prosperity, successive governments have been perfectly content to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on projects such as Cayman Airways, the Turtle Farm, Clifton Hunter High School and the $85 million dollar-plus Government Administration Building.

And yet, they have not seen fit to fund an adequate facility to look after the mentally ill on this island.

Anyone who lives here is well aware of a fellow often seen in the Strand parking lot, screaming at passersby, or another woman, sometimes threatening, who constantly walks up and down West Bay Road. Downtown George Town, the heart of our capital district, also has a cast of mentally ill characters who harass both visitors and residents alike. We all know and notice these forlorn and forsaken individuals who clearly need help.

A number of questions, for starters, arise from this current incident:

Health Minister Osbourne Bodden, what specifically are you doing to protect this woman? Have you intervened and, if so, to what result? It is our understanding she is back in the prison where she was apparently assaulted. Why?

  • Why did Crown prosecutors charge her over the carrot cake, dragging her into Grand Court?
  • Why was she sent to Fairbanks, a facility that officials have long known, in the words of former prison head William Rattray, “is not adequate as a place of safety for mental health patients”?
  • Why was the woman’s alleged assault with the scalding water not reported to police until nearly 14 hours after it happened?
  • What has happened to the official in charge of Fairbanks when the woman was scalded?

The events described above are not worthy of the people or the government of the Cayman Islands. What will be of great, and immediate, interest will be the response of our leaders in power.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Whilst I agree with this article fully that we need a mental facility here in Cayman, 100%, the Carrot Cake incident could have been a lot worse if you look at the big picture!

    Say you were in Burger King/Cafe del Sol and a machete/knife weilding woman entered the premises in a threatening manner, went to the counter to ask for for a piece of carrot cake, a big Whopper with fries or to rob the joint of thousands of dollars, she still distressed and frightened many people in there and the situation could have turned out a lot worse. She could have attacked someone, a child or even worse killed! The Police and the Court look at the law and protection of the community not whether she was hungry and after a piece of carrot cake. She obviously does need help and the Government should do their best to assist her and other mentally ill persons in Cayman in order for them to get the care and attention they need. Locking them up is not a solution but a new facility and care is!

    The PPM house in Savannah by the gas station would be a good start for a new temporary facility! Why do the PPM MLAs need the use of this house whilst they are in office and also the one on Crewe Road when they have nice shiny offices in the Government Building?

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  2. Thank you CayCompass for stepping in. A civilization should be judged by how it treats its mentally ill.
    Tina Johnson-Government Administration Building on Elgin Avenue has plenty of empty spaces.

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  3. Dear Editors — where is your beloved private sector? For a paper that takes an anti-government slant at every opportunity you get, you’re quick to point a finger at the government for not having a facility in place. I’m sure if there was one, your next editorial would be about how it was over-budget and should be abolished.

    I agree completely with your sentiment in this editorial. I just hope you remember that government is there for a reason, and that all of your anti-government, privatization nonsense isn’t always realistic.

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  4. Here in the states we have a huge problem with these people. They live in the streets and create all kinds of mayhem. Most of these people fall within 1 of 4 different scenarios which, hampers our ability to help them.
    1.) The mentally impaired person is on government disability and the checks are being cashed by their guardian. The guardian, only wants the money, and throws the mentally impaired person out on the street. The police are then left to deal with the problem through the judicial system.
    2.) The mentally impaired person is on government disability and their guardian works and can’t watch them all day. They quit taken their medication at which point they become psychotic. The guardian can’t handle them and throws them out on the street. The police are then left to deal with it through the judicial system.
    3.) The person became mentally impaired through drug and alcohol abuse. The family quit caring about the individual when they wouldn’t reframe from their lifestyle choices. The family through them out on the street and left it up to law enforcement to deal with them.
    4.) The person is mentally impaired and is picked up by law enforcement. The person is involuntarily held in a mental hospital and evaluated. They are then forced to take psychotropic drugs to make them sane again. The hospital then release them at which point they stop taken the medication become psychotic again and the cycle repeats itself.

    Conclusion: Most of these people have family. Here in the states we have found that some of these family members have not seen the mentally ill member for years but, they have been cashing the disability checks. Here in the states if your loved one is placed in a mental facility the mental facility receives that person’s disability check. The families have become dependent on that money and will fight you tooth and nail to keep it.

    So for you guys on the island you can see that this is not going to be a quick easy fix. You can build a mental facility but then you have some tough decisions to make. Remember these facilities are funded through tax dollars and the people will use this facility as a dumping ground.
    What level will you set for admission to this facility? Families that have kids with behavioral and learning disabilities, alcoholics and drug abusers, or maybe families that are just tired of dealing with their troubled family members will all seek to dump them on this facility.

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  5. Steven, I think they mostly take common-sense slant. However I agree with you that they are not entitled to make .suggestions in support of their political agenda, which clearly threads through some of their editorials (3.2% pay increase for example).
    In the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services has responsibilities for developing service systems to meet the needs of people with mental problems.

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  6. To be clear, I have no problem with the editorial board making suggestions based on their political agenda. What I do have a problem with is lack of consistency. Just yesterday the editorial was a plea to privatise anything, just pick any function and privatize it. The implication being that anything privatised is better than it being a public service. And then today we get an editorial slamming the government for not having enough public services.
    Like I said, I agree with everything they say in this piece. It’s just that it goes against their view from yesterday, and I think they should either be consistent or else put away the fake indignacy.

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  7. I would not go as far as planning a mental facility at this time. This would take for ever if it is in government hands. I would recommend some sort of tactical education of the public in ways that this subject stop being taboo for so many, and is being kept in the lime light at all time.

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  8. Watching Msr. Borden on the news promising to have a new mental health facility in place by the end of next year just proves the point I was trying to make earlier that when it becomes political they get interested. On the other hand it also proves that these guys just pull promises out of their behinds just to give people what they think they want to hear. How can he promise this without even looking at the budget or discussing in with anyone else. I recall this is the same guy that said during his campaign that the PPM had as I quote clear sustainable realistic solutions to fix the GT Dump in place, but have now hired committees and travel to the US on fact finding tours to come up with a solution they were already supposed to have. I guess there’s a trip to the US to tour mental hospitals in their future.

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