To protect the mentally ill is to protect ourselves

Better care and precautions should be taken by both the authorities and family members of the medically diagnosed individuals

pic by TMR FILE

WHO should be held responsible for Sefiah Hamid’s death? The 62-year-old lady was allegedly stabbed to death by her own son, who then pushed her bloodied body in a wheelchair to the roadside in Taman Kampung Padang, Kuantan, on Tuesday.

The event happened to the horror of those at a nearby food stall. What would have been a scene from a Western scary movie, the son admitted to the food stall operator of having killed the victim.

Armed with a kitchen knife, the suspect then attacked his sister and her boyfriend, who arrived at the location a few minutes later. The sister was slashed in the back, chest and thigh, while the boyfriend was stabbed.

The suspect, 38, was reportedly suffering from Alzheimer’s and had just been discharged from the hospital. With various criminal records, including attempts to burn down their home and another record of psychiatric treatment under his belt, he went to live with his mother who was wheelchair-bound.

It is a very sad story, but with a wider implication. Why was he, with a proven mental illness and criminal records, allowed to walk freely? How did the hospital allow such a mentally deranged person to be discharged?

News reports did not mention the name of the hospital, but questions were raised whether the suspect had been prematurely released.

Alzheimer’s is not unique nor rare. It is an incurable, irreversible and progressive brain disorder, which causes brain cells to slowly waste away and die.

It is also the most common cause of dementia, where the patient’s thinking, behavioural and social skills continue to decline overtime.

He/she will eventually lose the ability to function independently. A competent and able caretaker is required to care for the patient. Clearly, an old woman in a wheelchair does not fit the bill.

A neurological disorder, paired with a psychiatric disorder, is a lethal combination. Past criminal cases are obvious. This is not the first case of such manner.

Last year, a woman in Sabah slashed the throats of her four children and turned the knife on herself.

Her eight-month-old baby boy died, while she and the other three children were critically injured. She was suffering from depression. In 2017, a man in Pahang who was believed to be mentally unstable killed his grandmother by stabbing her in the neck with a parang because she did not have food for him.

He attacked his wife with pieces of burning embers and after killing his grandmother, attacked his father-in-law with the parang. These are just some examples of the rising worries related to mental illness. In most cases, the suspects’ conditions were known.

In truth, it is not easy to detect mental illness. It’s not like flu or sore eyes. But if individuals had been hospitalised and their conditions were clearly recorded, better care and precautions should be taken by both the authorities and family members.

In poor Sefiah’s case, the police are looking into the suspect’s mental and medical records. But what is paramount is that the idea of protecting the mentally ill also means we are protecting ourselves from harm.

Farezza Hanum Rashid is the assistant news editor of The Malaysian Reserve.