A brief exchange with...
Mr. Orlando Pulido
President of the Belmopan Mental Health Consumer Association, in Belize
Narrowing the divide with effective mental health advocacy
The Belmopan Consumer Association was formed on April 5, 2004. The group feels that it needs to work on many fronts at the same time. "By Consumer we mean any person who is a recipient of mental health services or is a psychiatric survivor", says the association website.
The goal is to effect positive change. Its President, Mr. Orlando Pulido, indicates that traditionally, consumers were viewed as another burden for society to shoulder. "We were seen as hobbling through a maze of mental struggles with no end. Modern medications have changed all that."
Consumers in Belize, like their counterparts in countries like Brazil, have a tremendous potential to be involved in self help cooperative economic programs, Pulido says. "As Brazil has proven, Consumers can be successfully integrated into society".
Why is so crucial for mental health to have advocates such as those in the organization that you preside?
As consumers we can be important advocates, because it is our members who know best what is being endured during mental disorders. The expensive second generation anti psychotic medications, introduced by the Belize Government for free in 2005, are making it possible for mental patients to virtually 'rise from the dead' to tell their story of agony and life long suffering. Thanks to these medications we can become greater advocates and lead normal and fulfilling lives.
Is it your opinion that government officials in Belize and elsewhere in the Caribbean are tuned to the work that such advocacy performs? In the particular case of Belize, what has made it possible for an organization such as yours to make its voice be heard so prominently?
As an organization we registered as a blip on the radar screen of the Government of Belize in 2005, after we successfully lobbied for the modern medications. It is hoped that our web site, and its promotion, will lead to greater advocacy.
The Psychiatric Unit at Western Regional opened in 2001. It was hailed as a major victory. Experts, however, agree that the fight is not over. What steps do you want to be developed and implemented, by order of importance, in the context of the mental health reform?
We would like the Government of Belize to continue financing the modern medications for mental patients. We hope for work to continue on a Mental Health Policy within the framework of the PAHO/WHO Modules. We hope that there be future inter-sectoral and inter-ministerial collaboration for consumers to be trained in professional work such as masonry, metallurgy, arts, science and technology. We pray that the University College of Belize rises to the occasion to become a catalyst in this effort, working with the Ministry of Education.
What is the main reason that prompted you to embark on this crusade in advocating for those afflicted with mental illness in Belize, and in the rest of the Caribbean and the Region as a whole?
Twenty years ago I was being trained at a teachers college to become a secondary school teacher. But my career was destroyed when I was struck by an inherited biochemical disequilibrium in the brain. Today, and thanks to the medication being supplied free of cost by the Belize Ministry of Health, I can work on Information Technology to narrow the digital divide.