Norman George: Dealing with mentally challenged clients

Monday October 07, 2019 Written by Published in Opinion
Columnist and lawyer Norman George shares his experience dealing with mentally challenged clients. 19100613 Columnist and lawyer Norman George shares his experience dealing with mentally challenged clients. 19100613

In the 30 years that I have been practicing law in the criminal bar, I have come across a variety of individuals. The snappy chatty know-alls usually are the “con artists,” the drug dependent pickle brained “where am I type?”

The mentally challenged and marginalised type, the village simpletons, the frequent recidivists who declares at each court appearance “this is the last time.” Strange though, the “last timers” usually become all timers through habitual criminality.

During the 30 years, I have dealt with five clients who took their lives through suicide. These did not happen one after the other, but over that period of time.

One did it at a petrol station while refueling his motorbike. He was not a bad person, definitely not a criminal in the true sense, and had minor convictions. There may have been a drug connection, we’ll never know for sure. He was a big boy from a well-known highly respected family.

The other one had a petrol sniffing habit which caused him some brain damage, leading to being mentally retarted. He was a mechanic of reasonable competence, again from a good respectable family. His criminal convictions were for minor offences and he was not a top end criminal.

I learned of their passing after it happened. There were no hints or signs that they were feeling suicidal. What happened to them was years after I had dealings with them. Deep depression would have contributed to their actions. Cornered by stress, unable to face life surrounded by hostile and cumbersome challenges, they took their own lives. So unfortunate, so unnecessary.

One of them, a 24-year-old was on bail waiting for his trial for a charge of unlawfully taking of a car. It is by no means at the top end of the criminal scale. I interviewed him and found him to be just another young person having fun taking someone else’s car for a joyride.

There was no hint of anxiety or stress. I was dismayed when I heard that he had taken his life.

The most shocking relates to a client that I decided to withdraw as counsel, well before he was sentenced. Another lawyer acted for him. He told me that he was high on drugs when he stopped his van and abducted a seven-year-old girl riding her bicycle to school. He drove into the hills but he changed his mind when the little girl kept pleading with him not to harm her or hurt her. He admitted that he could never understand what made him do such a thing.

He mentioned that the best way out for him was to take his own life. I then said to him, “What about your partner and son, they need you when you are released from prison?” At that time, they were so close, in and out of court together everywhere. He did not display or have any mental issues after that conversation.

I believed that I succeeded in removing any tendency for self-harm from him. I was unaware of the man being possessed with a jealous rage when he discovered that his partner was with another ex-inmate. The outcome was the murder of his partner and the man she was cohabiting with, in addition to his suicide.

The last occasion was earlier this year when a man in his late forties awaiting trial on two charges of threatening to kill. His victims were two Asian shopkeepers. Something upset him, so he threatened to kill them. The person was a hardened drug user in recovery. I felt that he was a drug addict unable or unwilling to kick his habit. He also had some land problems with his siblings. One day he decided to kill himself by using a nail gun. It would have taken hours to pass away. He never discussed any family problems with me. He had a short attention focus. He wanted to throw all his court problems for me to handle without having to attend court himself. He was very forgetful but again, never showed signs of self-harm.

I had experienced threats of suicide from other clients. One woman said she wants to kill her husband, and then hang herself! I explained to her to walk away from her husband and pay more attention to looking after herself and her children. There has been no problem since.

Another client tried to burn his bedroom and clothes, before setting fire to himself, but thankfully was stopped in time.

All of this happens when a person stops believing in themselves. They believe that the world is against them, as well as family and loved ones. It is a form of moral degradation, mental torture, dulled instincts and zero self-worth.

Hey, you need to love yourself if no one else does!

Let us conclude by saying this, your body is a temple that God gave you. He also gave you a mind, and free will, he expects you to protect and treasure it. May I finally say, give our troubled one’s a thought.

Also think of those beautiful, loved souls who took it upon themselves to end their lives. I shed a few tears when writing this, which extends to so many others, who needed no lawyers to intervene in their life-long private traumas.


Kua rava teia,

Ka kite.

Norman George.


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