Trinidad & Tobago: Madness in the Ministry

The curious case of Cheryl Miller, an employee of the Ministry of Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development who reportedly got into an argument with a senior official and, as a result, found herself being taken from her place of work to the St. Ann's Psychiatric Hospital despite protests that she is “not mad”, has caused a commotion in the Trinidad and Tobago blogosphere.

Political blogger Rholda Bharath, who writes at The Eternal Pantomime, made sure to emphasize the gravity of the incident:

The country has been on fire all week in several ways, but the most important issue has been Cheryl Miller. A woman whose story affected many because it hit home just how vulnerable we are to the whims and fancy of any state body that wishes to abuse its power. The ease with which Cheryl Miller was locked up, the ease with which her family were denied their right to their own kin, the ease with which the authorities justified their actions and the ease with which they are now twisting the story away from their abuse of rights and inability to follow protocol and instead making it about whether Cheryl Miller is mentally ill or not is not just disgusting, it is downright scary.

According to the mental health act, a person being committed involuntarily must have prior certification and certain protocols must be followed. The state failed to fulfil (sic) their part in its entirety. Yesterday the Psychiatrist’s Association of Trinidad and Tobago came out and defended the procedure, saying that due process was followed. Today’s story in the Express belies that press release and one wonders if the Psych Association isn’t involved in politicking as well…

Miller was eventually sent home last Friday – and while The Eternal Pantomime is relieved that at least part of her ordeal is over, Bharath suggested that the political manouevres are not:

Already in some circles it is being whispered that Miller’s commitment to St. Ann’s has a political slant to it…and in a desperate show at defending the choices made by his Ministry Fuad Khan has come out making statements that can only be described as tasteless, judgemental (sic) and dangerous. Perhaps Khan is aware of the amount of anti-government sentiment that Miller’s predicament has created in the society and this is his form of damage control…but homeboy, you don’t go accusing people of politicking and then do the same thing yourself. In your comments Fuad, you imply that Miller has a serious condition. You indicate that she is an ‘ill patient’, but don’t reveal the diagnosis…you say too that she can look normal and and be triggered by a negative reaction, you imply by your comments that she has a personality disorder…

Your comments, in my opinion have totally violated Miller’s privacy, because you have subtly brought up details of her diagnosis, without naming the specific condition leaving the public to speculate as to her mental state. You’ve now put more fodder out there, and diverted the public away from the REAL ISSUE…which is not Miller’s mental state, but DID THE STATE ABUSE MILLER'S RIGHTS BY NOT FOLLOWING PROPER PROCEDURE!

Don’t let Fuad’s politicking distract you folks…this matter was never about Miller’s mental health…it was about whether the state had abused its power in dealing with a public servant.

In another post, Bharath added:

While most of the country has been embroiled in diagnosing Cheryl Miller from the safety of their web browsers, my interest has never been whether she is mentally unstable or not. In my mind that’s an issue for Cheryl and her medical practitioner. My issue has always been, was proper procedure followed….the trial will clearly shift away from whether Miller is insane or not, to one of either breach of Human Rights or breach of Industrial Regulations.

The blogger also accused the Minister of Health of “insidiously attempting to get Cheryl Miller to be judged by the public with the information about her mental health that keeps slipping out of [his] mouth”:

Even the Psychiatric Association got in on the politicking this week, without looking at the details of the case, they issued a statement saying that proper procedure had been followed…then we find out on Friday that Cheryl Miller, who had been sitting at her desk writing a letter was detained under the section of the act that refers to people found wandering on roads and highways. I can only assume from this that Tower D does lean onto Wrightson Road.

Meanwhile, over at Outlish, GIRL THRIVING WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER explained that she could be Cheryl Miller:

When I wrote my article about my ambivalence toward going public about my mental illness, last year, I never thought that I would have to write something else about the issue, using a pseudonym again. I thought that the next article I wrote would have my byline standing proud. And then the bacchanal about Cheryl Miller happened.

Even though the reports indicate that she has no prior illness, she was involuntarily committed to mental hospital, at the behest of her employers at the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development. It took legal action for her to be released to the care of her family, and the full facts of what happened are yet to come out.

She continued:

As this incident happened in the workplace, it hit home for me on so many levels, it isn’t funny.

The fact that I, as a person with a mental illness, was attending university was unthinkable for many people…You see, I am about to graduate in a few months with a degree in hand from The University of the West Indies (UWI), and go looking for a job. And yet, part of the discourse I heard surrounding this incident was that if she was mad, she would not be attending UWI.

The threat of employment discrimination is a very real one for anyone known to have a mental illness, whether it is treated or untreated, because of the high levels of stigma and ignorance surrounding the illness. What kicked me in the gut with Cheryl Miller’s case is that I put myself in her shoes. The thing is, before this, I would have been more likely to seek employment in the public service, because I felt that they would be a bit more likely to adhere to labour relations and mental health practices than the private sector – even in this situation. Now, I am not so sure.

Were I to be employed in the public service today, I feel under the present circumstances, that there just might be a chance that what happened to Cheryl Miller could happen to me, if my diagnosis was known to my superiors. It could take just one vindictive boss or colleague to do this, and I would not have a leg to stand on because of my prior diagnosis.

It makes me disgusted and sad that there are such low expectations for persons with mental illness from the society we live in, but it has not deterred me from pursuing my goals. Now a decade later, I stand poised to fly and achieve with diploma in hand. I am equipped for life, and employment; but after seeing this incident play out, I wonder…is society is ready for me?

The story also grabbed the attention of regional bloggers; Barbados Underground said:

It seems incredible that in 2012 a government employee could be whisked away by authorities and committed to a mental institution. Yet this is what happened to Cheryl Miller, an employee of the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development. Rational thinking would suggest if there is a problem at the office that the next of kin would be alerted to determine next steps. Thankfully by a court order Cheryl Miller was released from St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital.


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