SINGAPORE — The death of a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) full-time national service man (NSF) was found to be consistent with suicide, the Coroner’s Court has ruled.
Muhammad Ahad Lone, who was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with depressed mood, had visited medical facilities inside and outside of camp 17 times before his death.
The 18-year-old Singaporean, who was born in Pakistan in 1999, was plagued by feelings of being a burden to the platoon, financial and familial issues, said the State Coroner in findings dated 18 September and released to the media on Wednesday (20 November).
On 7 April last year, at about 1.25pm, Ahad was found to have fallen from height to the ground floor of a rented room at the 15th level of a block at 1A Pine Grove. His body was found directly beneath his kitchen window.
In her findings, State Coroner (SC) Kamala Ponnampalam recommended that the SCDF undertake various measures in the wake of the incident, including the appointment of trained mental health professionals in each SCDF camp.
Ahad came to Singapore with his family in 2007 after his father got a job in Singapore. He went to a primary school here and studied up to primary five before returning to his birth country with his family in 2012. He was able to study abroad before he returned to Singapore to fulfil his national service obligations.
On 6 February last year, Ahad enlisted with the SCDF. On the same day, he reported to the Civil Defence Academy Medical Centre (CDAMC) and complained of conditions such as giddiness, vomiting and rashes. He reported being unused to the weather and food, and had problems sleeping.
A diagnosis of gastritis with an element of adjustment disorder was made, and Ahad was prescribed Atarax to help him sleep.
Over 11 days in February and March, he visited the CDAMC and the National University Hospital Emergency Department for various illnesses. Following his last visit to NUH, he was advised to follow up with a psychiatry clinic for his insomnia and was given a referral to the gastroenterology specialist.
Due to his frequent visits to NUH, Ahad was brought in by his unit to the CDAMC on 27 March. He was advised to report sick in camp or the primary care doctor, and not to take too many MCs.
The NSF visited the CDAMC again on 28 and 29 March.During Ahad’s visit on 29 March, Ahad told a doctor he had two months of insomnia, low mood, poor appetite and psychomotor retardation.
Ahad also reported that he had suicidal thoughts, and that he was stressed about his NS obligations, financial and family issues. He was conveyed to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for psychiatric assessment.
Referred to IMH for suicidal thoughts
Ahad denied being suicidal to an IMH psychiatrist, reporting that while he was unhappy, he felt fine. He was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with depressed mood and referred for counselling.
On 2 April, Ahad visited CDAMC for the last time with the memo from IMH, which prescribed Atarax and one day of MC with a follow-up appointment in four to six weeks’ time.
A referral to the SCDF counsellor, a centre for psychological care and for Ahad to be excused from using firearms were suggested. Ahad was given three months’ of light duty, excuse from Individual Proficiency Physical Test (IPPT), Remedial Training, and was advised to avoid sharp objects.
Ahad had his Physical Employment Standards (PES) status reassigned to C9, effective for six months on 3 April last year.
In his ruling, Ponnampalam said, “I accept that it is not possible to predict suicide in an individual and clinicians can only try to identify the suicide risk factors and respond with appropriate care and intervention.”
Ahad could have also benefited from supervision from a trained counsellor, she added.
Noting the recommendations by the psychiatrist, Ponnampalam said there was no dedicated centre for psychological care within SCDF.
“Assessing suicide risk is an inexact science requiring a judgement call,” said Ponnampalam, adding that such assessments are best undertaken by counselling professionals.
The SC also found that Ahad's commanding officers had taken steps to ensure Ahad's wellbeing, and there was no lapse in the discharge of their duty to Ahad.
Speaking to the media after the hearing on Monday, Ahad’s elder brother, 24-year-old Mohaid Lone, said through the family’s lawyer that he was coming to terms with the findings. Mohaid, who flew over from Pakistan, was seen crying outside the court.
“He (Mohaid) has been through (NS) and he’s trying to find answers,” said the lawyer, Othman Khan, who was acting for the family.