NS-man death coroner’s inquiry: captain not clear about mental illness

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A key witness to a national serviceman’s death case, Captain Jessie Goh, said in court today she was not clear of the severity of his mental condition at the early stage of his enlistment.

Today was the second coroner’s inquest into the death of 22-year-old Ganesh Pillay when he was in National Service.

“When I heard the word ‘schizophrenia’ initially, the first thought that came into my mind was split-personality,” said Goh.

Ganesh’s psychiatrist, Dr Ngui diagnosed Ganesh with schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2011.

Until she received a letter from Dr Ngui in April 2013, she claimed that she thought Ganesh was having depression and was “sad”.

On July 5 2013, Ganesh was found dead at the foot of his apartment in Sengkang after his lieutenant gave him “14 extras” as punishment. This is equivalent to additional duties in camp for about 2 months.

She chronicled her encounter with Ganesh from the day he was transferred to her camp in November 7 2012. She was his manpower officer.

From an initial interview with Ganesh, she thought that he had depression and was seeing a private doctor once a month. She knew he took a pill each night, prescribed by his doctor.

When asked in court what she thought of his condition, she said: “I thought he was just being sad. Further on, I understood that his friends had bullied him at school. He might just have problems making friends or (having) people whom he can talk to and understand him.”

According to her initial understanding, she said people who saw psychiatrists were people who might need someone to talk to and might not need medical attention.

She said she never asked why he was having problems with his personal daily routines or pry further about his depression.

This was because Goh felt he was improving in the camp from November 2012 to March 2013. She cited Ganesh’s efforts to make posters for the office, an activity he enjoyed. It was a sign he was opening up, she said.

Yet Goh said she knew there were times Ganesh forgot to brush his teeth. She said his running t-shirt was dirty too. In March, she said Ganesh could not distinguish the dirty laundry from the clean ones. The judge asked if she thought this might be related to his condition.

“No, from my understanding, his mother does all these things at home for him.”

“On hindsight, I do not see it as a mental condition. They [people like Ganesh] may be very dependent on their mothers to do these chores for them. They are not taught how to do these chores themselves, maybe. So many of them are not prepared for the military life.”

Goh said that, as far as she was concerned, there were no military psychiatric courses available to her. But she conceded that Ganesh was not the first soldier she encountered with “such problems”.

“Since I found out about his depression, I had put a lot more effort to show him care and concern more than any other soldier.”

She noted that other soldiers who committed similar wrongdoings as Ganesh were given much harsher punishments.

“We, as a unit, have been giving him a lot of chances. We, as a unit, have been helping him along the way, but there are consequences for every wrongdoing.

“He has to learn. And while he is learning the consequences of his wrongdoing, I will help him gain his bearings.”

 

MORE TO COME. The hearing will resume this afternoon.