Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 10th 2015 Contents A31
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It was the 70s. I was a fifth-for-
mer. Fresh from hospitilisation for
"observation," I ventured into
Princes Town to do errands. As I
approached King street where I
lived, I remembered I had to stop
by the pharmacy. I steupsed, with
some minor hand movement, shook
my head, and turned around walk-
ing bags in hand, back into the town
centre in blazing midday sun.
The next day, my mother visited
from Moruga. In her usual calm she
inquired how I was doing. I respond-
ed similarly, all the while relishing
seeing her, especially on a Sunday
when transportation was unduly dif-
Then after some chit-chat, she
asked, "How de head? You having
any problems?" And unsuspecting,
I answered that I was doing well. I d
made it to school everyday that past
week, all my homework was com-
"Miss so-and-so said she see you
in the town yesterday looking con-
fused. She see you throw yuh hands
up in the air, talking to yourself, walk-
ing up and down the road, you alone,"
Mommy said almost apologetically.
My troubled parent, with no access
to telephones had come to my rescue,
and, in my estimation, given what
I know of Moruga in the 70s, teeming
with obeah and schisms, she must
have been expecting to find me in
chains, being fed raw meat with a
ten-foot rod, through a hole, by Sun-
And right there, on reflection,
someone could have applied Section
15 of the untouched Mental Health
Act 30 of 1975, of which I ve written
before, highlighting its inadequacies;
a law so archaic, in fact, it was out-
dated the day it was proclaimed.
Section 15 of the Act, states: "A
person found wandering at large on
a highway or in any public place and
who by reason of his appearance,
conduct or conversation, a mental
health officer has reason to believe
is mentally ill and in need of care
and treatment in a psychiatric hos-
pital or ward, may be taken into cus-
tody and conveyed to such hospital
or ward for admission for observation
in accordance with this section."
This is that upon which Cheryl
Miller s false imprisonment was
based. The details of the case are
available having made international
headlines at her detainment in 2012,
and at judgment in 2015.
By good fortune or ignorance, I
escaped Section 15 back then when
I was found---by inexpert eyes/mind
---to be "looking mentally ill and
wandering at a highway or public
Unfortunately, having never paid
attention to the Act in an effort to
educate a growing (in numbers, not
tolerance) population, including those
providing care, in a place where per-
ception is too often reality, Miss
Miller s fate was sealed by the inter-
pretations/estimation of a mental
But before that.
Before mental health officer,
Koreen Jackson-Huggins, arrived at
the conclusion that Miller was men-
tally ill using an Act that promotes
stigmatisation, not ever written or
meant to protect the rights of citizen,
but accepted in law as an umbrella
of protection of us against them,
someone initiated that chain of
Can you imagine the rumour mill
of ignorance/intolerance from which
that suggestion emanated against
"Miller had a large black umbrella
opened on her desk." You ever see
so much madness? She had on ear-
phones from which emanated loud
music. That is crazy people actions,
oui. She appeared untidy, her clothes
seemed soiled and her hair was
unkept. They always say mad people
doh like to bathe.
Stone me if I m wrong. But the
inkling of any abnormality urges
judgment, a callous resistance even,
in us---unreasoned fear because "you
never know when she would become
I live it. I live effectively with clin-
ical depression. I m also diagnosed
with bipolarity. I intentionally say
I m a person living with mental illness
because I m comfortable with the
suggestion, but more because I advo-
cate for people to be comfortable
By my reasonable accomplish-
ments, through 35 years of managing
mental health issues, I believe I m
well placed to give another "visual"
to an uninformed population that
mental illness doesn t have a "look."
But I m cognisant that some
expect me to break out in violence
because that s what they believe
about my issues.
For me, the prominence of stigma
was evident in the 70s as it is now.
Stigma, Merriam-Webster says, is
"a set of negative and often unfair
beliefs that a society or group of peo-
ple have about something."
Based on Miller s unusual behav-
iour, someone assumed that the lady
was two shakes off and something
had to be done---for or against her!
In 2012, UWI lecturer/urologist
consultant Dr Phillip Ayoung-Chee
asked a key question among others:
"Who called the mental health officer
to the office?"
His was a question of culpability.
Mine would be a research project on
our deepening entrenched stigma.
There s more to be said.
These are interpretations of other
people's attitudes based on the cultural
experiences I've had with stigma and
Still living under the umbrella of stigma
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS
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