Institute of Mental Health

In Mitigation

Institute of Mental Health
Institute of Mental Health

By Dr Wong Wee Nam

What is a remand ward? I have worked in a remand ward at Woodbridge Hospital.  With rows of beds, it looked like any C class ward in an old hospital. Add in the inmate and other security fittings, the ward did not look or feel like even an ordinary ward in a psychiatric hospital. It looked and felt like a prison. The walls were high and at the top were barbed wires to prevent inmates from escaping.

There were solid steel bars all round making it looked more and more like a prison. For security reason, there were double gates for entry into the wards.

The peeling paint and unpainted walls give the ward a picture of a gloomy prison taken out off a World War II movie. It would be a perfect setting for a movie like Hannibal or Silence of The Lamb.

With dim nights, it would be an eerie place to visit at night. I know because I have done my share of visits.

Even when I did my rounds during the day, I could not help feeling apprehensive. The type of patients made it so.

These were not the usual mental patients. They were the mentally-disturbed patients who had committed murder and other criminal activities. Dangerous enough to be confined to such a ward. Some still remained paranoid.

Once when I did a ward round, I was almost attacked by a patient with a screw driver and would have been seriously injured if not for the timely intervention of vigilant staff.

For those who are not used to it, spending a night in such circumstances would be a harrowing experience.  Imagine eyes staring fixedly at you, people talking to themselves, someone just laughed out or shrieked suddenly  and displaying other odd behaviours. And knowing some of them would kill again believing they would not be convicted for having an unsound mind gave you the creeps.

When Amos Yee was ordered to be remanded at IMH, I hope it is an ordinary ward and not in a high security remand ward. He is not a dangerous criminal or in a danger of running away.

While the physical ambience of the remand ward in the modern IMH may resemble a holiday resort when compare to the old Woodbridge Hospital, the nature of its inmates cannot be very much different. No matter how distasteful Amos’ video was, to put him in such a ward would be unnecessary mental  punishment that has yet to be meted out.

“Incarceration of free-thinking healthy people in madhouses is spiritual murder” wrote Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Soviet dissident and Nobel Prize-winning author.

The boy has spent a lot of time in prison. Let us  hope that when the sentence is handed down, it will fit the crime, bearing in mind he still a kid who still has a lot of growing up to do.

Keeping a person in a mental hospital for a few weeks to make a diagnosis of autism is punishment enough.  First it stigmitizes the person for life and secondly the period of treatment is variable.

Marina Trutko a nuclear scientist, a vocal activist and public defender for several years who had been forcibly taken and thrown into a psychiatric hospital, knows what it is like to have a psychiatric label.

“Now I have this stamp on my forehead that I am a psychiatric patient,” she said. “I will always have this medical record now. That means I cannot go to court because judges say I’m a psycho and call for an ambulance.”