Most Singaporeans would know by now the tragic suicide of celebrity chef, TV host and author Anthony Bourdain. As we remember this beloved personality’s life, this has thrown the spotlight on the issue of mental health and how important it is to pay attention to it. You see, what most people don’t understand is that mental health is like physical health – you need to look after it, diagnose it and seek treatment for it. Sweeping it under a carpet or pretending there is no problem will not make it go away.
To be fair, I think that Singaporeans are growing in awareness to mental health issues. People are beginning to understand that there are many different types of mental health issues and that it is a disease just like any other. The stigma is slowly reducing and there is a concerted effort to create awareness around this issue.
That said, I would like to highlight areas which will definitely benefit from further training and awareness. While my intention is not to single out law enforcement for criticism, I wonder if more can be done to ensure that our law enforcement officers ranging from police officers to judges are trained and equipped to deal with a vast variety of people with ranging mental capabilities and psyches.
One recent high profile case was how M Ravi was dealt with after having a very public meltdown. The fact that he has been diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder is no secret. The fact that he was behaving irrationally was also obvious. So much so that the Police Prosecutor had asked for M Ravi to be submitted to Insitute of Mental Heath (IMH) for an assessment. In my humble opinion, this should not be contentious. Yet, the judge in that instance decided to throw this request out and proceeded to charge him instead.
What was the harm of sending him to IMH for an assessment? In this, I feel the judge has trivialised the very serious issue of mental health. Instead of recognising the effects it can have on one’s behaviour, the judge has chosen to ignore the very real effects of mental health ailments.
Another example would be in the tragic death of Benjamin Lim, I wonder if the situation would have been different if the police had been trained to deal with the sensitive nature of an adolescent. Should he have been intimidated by so many police officers showing up at school? Should his parents have been present given that he was a minor? Should the school have allowed him to be taken out of school? Should he have been even brought to the police station? So many questions and so few answers! Are we giving enough weight to the state of minds of those we are dealing with?
The death of a celebrity is no different to the death of a young boy – both were senseless and perhaps, avoidable. In Lim’s case, there is no escaping the fact that he died right after an encounter with the police. Perhaps Bourdain’s tragedy can serve as a reminder of how we can all make a difference by being more sensitive.