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Mental health needs the fullest attention

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The first details of the attempt by a Trinidadian to steal a plane heightened our anxiety that this country had fostered another terrorist. We were not the only ones to think that immediately.

One of the maintenance workers on the American Airlines aircraft said that he felt this could have been a repeat of the 9/11 highjacking, and he acted to thwart any such attempt.

As more details revealed, this was a young man who would eventually admit that he was attempting to harm himself.

So we have moved from asking why he would want to steal an aircraft to asking the more profound question of why would he want to harm himself?

The fact that Nishal Sankat is the son of a former principal of the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies drew mixed comments. Many asked how could a young man with a 'privileged background' reached this state of mind.

Sankat appeared before a judge whose accent immediately identified her as coming from the Caribbean. A check revealed that Justice Rhonda E Babb, is Trinidadian, one of those coincidences that you could not script.

But, the most interesting coincidence is that Sankat appeared in a court that specialises in treating cases of mental illness.

Legal authorities in Florida established the Mental Health Court with the mandate "... to improve public safety by reducing criminal recidivism through the improvement of the quality of life of people with serious mental illnesses. In the mental health court, the judge orders participation in appropriate treatment services for the defendant and monitors the defendant through regular court sessions rather than incarceration with limited access to mental health services."

The Floridians recognise the value of dealing with mental health in a way that is humane and with dedicated personnel and services to aid in relief and possible remedy.

As we listened to the proceedings, it was clear that Sankat was being handled by a court that was equipped to respond to his particular needs while not diminishing the seriousness of his infraction.

This case again raises our concern about the way we treat with mental illness in our communities. It is one of the most difficult of health issues to deal with and our continued ignorance results in even more damage to those affected and their families.

You may ask what the warning signs are. The Royal College of Psychiatrists lists typical symptoms: "feel utterly tired", "feel useless, inadequate and hopeless", "feel unhappy most of the time" among them.

There is no definite medical sign of illness since it affects different people differently and in many instances, the sufferer does not know when it comes, neither do family or friends, until the damage is so severe that it leads to actions that are unacceptable.

We should not only reach out to Nishal's family and support them in this testing time, but we urge all to face the reality of mental health damage because in these situations we are one concerned family.


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