Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The bizarre case of Cheryl Miller


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Nothing so illustrates the all-pervasive distrust into which national life has descended than the protest that has erupted over the case of Cheryl Miller, an employee of the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development. The protest comes two weeks after the public servant was carted off to the St Ann's Psychiatric Hospital following what has been described as an emotional on-the-job outburst, which may or may not have psychiatric undertones.

The incident seems almost medieval in the way it pits Miller's family and friends against the State which is being accused of having forcibly detained her in an age when issues of rights, sensitivity and privacy in matters of health are the shared standards of modern society.

This case raises red flags in demonstrating how easy it could be to institutionalise people on suspect grounds.

Without prejudice to the specific case of Cheryl Miller, one expects that in situations of suspected psychiatric breakdown in the workplace, the employer's first point of reference would be the employee's next of kin. If an emergency intervention had to be implemented, one would expect the employer to stay close, and solicitously so, to the situation until responsibility can be passed to the next of kin. Out of a shared concern for the patient's well-being, one would expect both parties to work hand in hand.

Sadly, this is not the case for Ms Miller whose detention has become a cause célèbre among co-workers who believe that she is being punished by the employer for standing up for herself and venting her opinion.

That this is happening under a minister with a reputation as a champion of rights merely heightens the confusion. We are frankly puzzled by the speculation from Minister Verna St Rose Greaves that the alleged incident may be related to a process of change at the ministry which may be triggering feelings of loss of freedom and status among employees. If this is so, Minister St Rose Greaves, who is veering dangerously close to diagnosing her employee, may wish to urgently review the process in terms of its impact on employees.

Equally in need of review and clarification are the facts surrounding Ms Miller's case. The Mental Health Act stipulates that an urgent admission can be done on the basis of an application by anyone, along with a certificate from a medical practitioner. Who at the ministry made the initial application?

The case also points to grey areas when assessment and admission occur in the same place as happened in the Miller case. Further, it raises questions about the legality of the authority exercised by mental health officers prior to the issuing of a medical certificate. In pursuing all of this, however, let us not forget that at the centre of it all is a human being.