Death of NS man: Should Schizophrenics Serve in Army?

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An inquest into the death of a Schizophernic National Serviceman has been told that 22-year-old Ganesh Pillay Magindren’s condition was stable prior to enlistment.

On Wednesday (22 Jan 2014), a coroner’s inquest found that before Ganesh was enlisted into the army on October 2012, his condition was stable. He had been seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Paul W. Ngui, on a regular basis since 2011 – the year he was diagnosed with Schizophernia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in 2011.

The Independent Singapore understands that the camp which Ganesh was posted to – Khatib Camp – was undergoing restructuring and even though he was in a clerical position, he was required to work fast.

“He [Ganesh] was often under pressure to perform and felt stressed,” said Dr Ngui. “As a result, he had a relapse.”

To stabilise his then patient’s condition and get him back on track in life, Dr Ngui increased Ganesh’s dosage of Risperidone, Quetiatine, Sertraline between 23 May and 25 June, 2013. Six days later, Dr Ngui increased Ganesh’s dosage of Sertraline as Ganesh appeared to be “under a lot of stress”.

Risperidone and Quetiatine are tranquilisers used to treat schizophernia, while Sertraline is an antidepressent.

It is not known whether or not Ganesh had been taking his prescribed medication. The inquest was adjourned till 25 Feburary.

Moreover, Ganesh had the tendency to keep things to himself, while his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder made him seek perfection at work, said Dr Ngui.

“Although Ganesh told me that he had difficulties coping at work (he did complain about his work along with headaches), he was willing to put in the time and effort to do a good job,” said the psychiatrist.

But the court heard that Ganesh was often allegedly put down by his superiors for his work quality and performance. He was also allegedly berated, again, by his superiors, for staring at his mobile phone during the wee hours of the morning.

Said Dr Ngui: “For some people with schizophrenia, stress makes them more vulnerable to deadly thoughts.”

“Once a patient stops taking his or her medication, a relapse will take place between one and 14 days, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition. In Ganesh’s case, a relapse is likely to happen within a week if medication is discontinued,” added Dr Ngui.

“Only a third of schizophrenics respond well to medication. The rest will have residual effects due to medication.”

The court also found that Dr Ngui had written to the medical officer in Ganesh’s camp to inform the camp’s doctor to follow up with Ganesh. Dr Ngui did not receive any acknowledgement from the camp’s doctor.

On 5 July, 2013, Ganesh was found dead at the foot of his apartment block in Sengkang. That same day, Ganesh was informed by his lieutenant that he had to serve “14 extras”.

An “extra” is an additional duty given to a National Servicemen in lieu of punishment and is commonly carried out during the weekends. 14 extras meant that Ganesh had to stay in camp for close to three-and-a-half months.

All this begs these questions: Should schizophrenics be allowed to serve in the army even as clerks and or administrative assistants? How should someone with schizophrenia be treated in the army? Did the Singapore Armed Forces and MINDEF provide counselling to the parents of the bereaved? And if the armed forces and MINDEF did not provide Ganesh’s distraught family members with counselling, why not? Also, what action did SAF and MINDEF take to ensure that Ganesh did not succumb to a negative mindset?