He used to draw for her, but not anymore. He was her first best friend, but now only his pictures remain in her room.
Shalini (she did not want to give her real name) is the sister of Ganesh Pillay, the 22-year-old national serviceman who was found dead at the foot of her family’s condominium in Sengkang last July – soon after he was given ’14 extras’ as punishment for untidiness, among other things.
Ganesh was diagnosed with schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, conditions his army unit’s officers had little knowledge of until it was too late.
As the coroner’s inquiry into Ganesh’s death came to an end yesterday, Shalini felt there was no closure for her family.
Tears welled up as she spoke, “This cannot be another case where somebody has died in the army, and the case gets swept under the carpet.
“My family had trusted the army to take care of my brother. We thought they would have treated him with proper knowledge of his conditions.
“Now he is gone. I do not want anyone to suffer like my brother did because of someone’s lack of knowledge of mental illness.
“I do not want anyone to have to die because of miscommunication between doctors and army officers. My brother must be the last.
“This is a life lost, a precious life lost.”
The day he died, Shalini was out with her boyfriend.
When her parents texted her to come home because her brother was dead, she thought they were scaring her because she was out late.
She came home and saw dozens of slippers at her doorstep. She knew the message was for real.
“The public needs to know how serious this is. If the officer in Ganesh’s unit knew how to pick up signs of mental conditions, he might have been alive today.
“If I were Ganesh’s superior [Captain Jessie Goh], I believe it is my responsibility to know each of my soldiers. If I were to have these soldiers under me, I would have enquired about the soldiers with their conditions.
“I would have helped him. He could have been alive.”
She never saw his “suicide” coming.
Ganesh was happy, she said. He used to smile, even when he was diagnosed in 2011.
“We did not tell our friends because I knew people would not understand. But I started reading everything I could about his condition.
“I think people do not know how to approach individuals like my brother. They have negative perceptions of them, like calling them ‘siao’ [crazy].
“But my brother was not alone. I saw a man who broke down in public on my way to work one day. Everyone was staring, but no one did anything.
“If they were aware of his mental condition, they would have calmed him down.”
When the family finally broke the news of Ganesh’s death to friends and relatives, many comforted them but not all were kind.
Shalini read of a stranger’s comment online, accusing the family of sending their schizophrenic son to national service.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) offered counselling sessions at their home after Ganesh’s death. But unknowingly, she found herself rating her relationship with her brother, from the scale of one to five, on a form for SAF.
“It was really unkind to ask me to rate my brother on that form,” Shalini said. She did not know why she had to do this.
And the memories of her brother keep coming back often. She talks about him now, as her way of healing.
“We need to talk about schizophrenia and mental illness, both the army and the public. Let no one else suffer like this again.”
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