From ‘Hold family of mentally ill patient responsible for public misdeeds’, 1 Aug 2012, ST Forum
(Edward Zaccheus): MAY I plead with families of mentally ill people not to let their loved ones roam freely in public (“Dealing with mentally ill offenders”; July 6)? Last year, I was punched twice by a mentally ill adult while I was seeking donations for Flag Day along Waterloo Street. I called the police, who arrested him and sent him to the Institute of Mental Health where he was once a patient.
I could not seek compensation because my assailant was a mental person. When I contacted his family, I was chided for calling the police; instead of admitting responsibility for improperly caring for his mentally disabled father, the son blamed me. The incident has convinced me that while the mentally ill should rightfully be protected by the law, those in charge of their care must be held responsible for a mentally ill person’s misdeeds in public, especially if they are violent.
The relatives should be responsible enough to ensure that the public is safe from potentially violent behaviour.
If the writer wasn’t punched in the face, he would have gotten the same treatment as DJ Glenn Ong for his remark on ‘mad dogs’ needing to be put to sleep. But you don’t need ex-patients, or escaped patients, to cause a ruckus in public. Anyone diagnosed with even a behavioral disorder like depression may snap in public, especially those who push old ladies off a bus. The writer later clarified in a follow up letter on 7 Aug that he was referring only to mentally ill people with ‘violent tendencies’. Perhaps Zaccheus was unlucky here; we’re more likely to be bruised in a scuffle with gangsters, road ragers, drunkards or priority seat hogging seniors than mentally ill people looking to thump you on the nose. Most of the bizarre behaviour we see don’t come from mental patients at all. You have pathological liars like Aristocare’s Kelvin Ong, random people roaming about in the nude, and serial pedophiles like Jonathan Wong. Then there’s politicians, whose decisions could affect the livelihoods of not just one poor guy with a donation tin, but everyone in the country.
Letting a dangerously ill person out is like putting a loaded gun in a child’s hand, and here the family plays the role of ‘weaponising’ the child. Yet many perfectly healthy ‘normal’ people out there are capable of the same, if not worse, kind of irrational, unprovoked violence. Who is to decide if a schizophrenic is fit to take a cab without strangling the driver, or a pedophile to soak in as children’s pool without getting frisky? Who can predict how much more dangerous someone like that could be if they’re confined at home? What if they end up hurling crockery from the window in the nude? There are safeguards in place to certify mental patients before they’re fit to be released into society, not so for the teenager who spends 8 hours a day playing bloody shoot-em-up video games and fantasising about running through pedestrians with a chainsaw instead of boobies like normal kids do. We can’t assume all the time that the only thing that separates a violent mental patient and a violent ‘normal’ person is the latter being ‘responsible for their own actions’.
There was a time when you didn’t need to think twice before labelling people with mental disorders. Before Woodbridge was a euphemism for the Mental Hospital, we had an Insane Hospital and Lunatic Asylum. People who went cuckoo were called MADMEN in the press, and were hosed down by the police for disrupting the peace rather than escorted to the nearest clinic. In the 20’s, someone who went on a killing spree with no fathomable reason was a MANIAC run AMOK, and seemingly had the CUNNING of the INSANE. In the seventies, these patients were labelled ‘ILL’ in quotation marks. We were merciless in our categorisation of the psychotic, yet today, these politically incorrect terms have been defanged of their original usage. Insane and mad have become ‘ridiculous’ as in ‘He’s insane/mad to quit his job now’. Dick Lee calls himself the MAD Chinaman (Chinaman also a derogatory term). Artists are ‘mad geniuses’. Asylum is now something that people SEEK (refugees) instead of RUN AWAY from. ‘Maniac’ is used to describe obsessive hobbyists, as in ‘He’s a maniac at the gym’, while ‘lunatic’ and ‘amok’ are rarely used these days. In the 80’s, it was OK to use ‘patients with an UNSOUND MIND, though nobody until now can define what a ‘sound’ mind is.
WOODBRIDGE, however, once believed to be named after an ACTUAL wooden bridge, has become synonymous with mental illness, and you can’t go wrong if you use the former instead of IMH when telling a taxi driver to take you there. In 1998, a road named Jalan Woodbridge was wiped off Singapore’s map and replaced with Gerald Drive because of its associations (Jln Woodbridge taken off map, 5 July 1998, ST). In 2002, however, IMH’s CEO tried to run a Club M.A.D campaign, comparing the hospital to the resort Club Med, a poor choice of acronyms (it actually means MAKE A DIFFERENCE) which does absolutely nothing to erase the stigma of mental illness at all, and only to bring us backwards to the jolly ol’ straitjacket days of the Sanitarium.