MOHW weighs in on mental health following Nicole Polonio tragic death

Thursday, February 9th, 2023

The Minister of Health and Wellness (MOHW), the Honourable Kevin Bernard, has spoken about the issue of mental health in the country and how it is addressed. This comes on the heels of a case in San Pedro Town, where islander Nicole Polonio was deemed mentally challenged and restrained with chains in her room. According to the post-mortem, she later died from positional asphyxia. Minister Bernard told the media that a mental health policy is underway and that the Cabinet and the prime minister requested his ministry and the Ministries of Human Development and Home Affairs work on a strategic plan.

Nicole Polonio

Bernard noted that mental health is a priority in his ministry. “We recently brought on board a psychiatrist to help with that issue,” he said. Bernard shared that a new team would access the mental health policy and prioritize issues affecting Belizean society. The head of the MOHW stated that institutionalizing people is not always the best option. “It’s making sure that those people have access to their medication, timely visits, and monitoring,” he said.

Honourable Kevin Bernard

Regarding what happened to Polonio, the 34-year-old mother of five, Bernard lamented the incident and offered his deepest condolences to the family. “I don’t support the action taken by the family,” Bernard noted. He said not to be fully aware of the details, but it appears to him that Polonio was taken advantage of and left tied up. Bernard pledged that his ministry would put a solid policy together to present to the Cabinet for final approval. Bernard said he believes his colleagues in Cabinet will support it. MOHW also plans to continue working with their stakeholders as these are the people assisting in developing the right policy to yield the desired solution.
Many friends and other acquaintances dispute the suggestion that Polonio was mentally challenged. They also refute the idea that she was possessed. They noted that Polonio’s demise was triggered by how she was treated and restrained in her room for two weeks. Those concerned said that because her hands and feet were tied up, barely fed, and deprived of professional help, Polonio perished in her room.
The incident continues under investigation. Police took statements from witnesses and will submit a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions for advice.


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