Committee of Privileges on Raeesah Khan

Raeesah didn't have any mental disorder that would lead her to lie: IMH expert

Psychiatrist assessed her to be 'mentally fit' when she made statements in Parliament

Former Workers' Party MP Raeesah Khan did not suffer from any significant psychiatric disorder that would have impaired her ability to speak truthfully in Parliament, a medical expert testified before the Committee of Privileges yesterday.

Instead, Ms Khan was assessed to be of "sound mind" and "mentally fit" and "present" to make the statements that she had in Parliament and before the committee between Aug 3 and Dec 3, said Dr Christopher Cheok, who is acting chief of the department of forensic psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

In a sixth special report released by Parliament yesterday, Dr Cheok said Ms Khan did not suffer from any psychiatric disorder that would predispose her to telling untruths.

Dr Cheok, who is a senior consultant at IMH and a psychiatrist by training, assessed Ms Khan last Friday and Monday with her agreement after the committee invited her to undergo a psychiatric assessment.

This came after Leader of the Opposition and WP chief Pritam Singh suggested in his testimony about two weeks ago that the committee call for a psychiatric evaluation of Ms Khan, whom he said may be predisposed towards lying due to her mental condition of "disassociation", the committee noted.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim and vice-chairman Faisal Manap had also made several assertions with regard to Ms Khan's mental condition in their evidence to the committee, said the report.

Ms Khan, who last month admitted to lying in an anecdote raised in Parliament related to sexual assault, had said that she herself had been a victim of sexual assault.

In his evidence, Dr Cheok said it was a normal reaction for someone who had gone through a traumatic experience to continue to have some anxiety when speaking about the topic. This did not mean the person would be mentally impaired or incapacitated.

In Ms Khan's case, while she might have continued to feel upset about some of these memories, her judgment and decision-making capacity were not impaired, and she was of sound mind.

Dr Cheok also said that Ms Khan did not have post-traumatic stress disorder and did not suffer from dissociation between Aug 3 and Dec 3.

Besides the two occasions when he assessed Ms Khan, Dr Cheok also interviewed her husband and reviewed the relevant recordings of Ms Khan speaking in Parliament on Aug 3, Oct 4 and Nov 1, as well as her testimony before the committee on Dec 2 and 3.

When asked about Ms Khan's mental state on Aug 3 when she first mentioned the anecdote that contained untruths in Parliament, Dr Cheok said the speech was neither delivered impulsively nor as a result of dissociation or any psychiatric disorder.

It was possible that such untruths could be told as a result of bad judgment rather than because of any mental illness, he added.

In his assessment, Ms Khan also did not suffer from any significant or material dissociation between Aug 3 and Dec 3.

He explained that in layman's terms, dissociation is a symptom, not a medical diagnosis. It refers to the loss of the integrative function of the human mind, and may also be experienced by normal persons in different situations, such as deep prayer meditation or hypnosis.

Ms Khan had told him that her psychotherapist said she might have dissociation.

"Based on his conversations with Ms Khan, Dr Cheok did not believe that she fully understood what dissociation was," said the report.

Asked by WP MP Dennis Tan how to reconcile his findings on Ms Khan's mental health with the evidence of WP leaders that she would get emotional whenever her sexual assault was mentioned, Dr Cheok said a sexual assault is "one of the most traumatic experiences someone would ever go through".

Dr Cheok added: "(Being emotional) is a very understandable, very normal reaction from a survivor of a sexual assault.

"I would be very surprised if anyone can speak about their sexual assault, plainly, carelessly, without emotion, I think that is even more abnormal than being emotional when talking about their sexual assault."

While Dr Cheok did not deny that Ms Khan had some symptoms of being psychologically traumatised, he was of the view that the symptoms did not reach the threshold of a psychiatric disorder.

Asked by Mr Tan if it was nevertheless possible that Ms Khan's judgment could have been affected by the trauma - in a way that caused her to have "false memory creation" - Dr Cheok reiterated that Ms Khan did not suffer from dissociation.

In his assessment, when Ms Khan spoke of her assault, she was not affected to an extent that caused her to lose her mental capacity.

He was also asked by Mr Tan whether a person who is suffering from trauma, while still generally high functioning, could be capable of sending out a message that selectively contained a lie.

Dr Cheok said that while possible, there also may be other explanations why a person may give a falsehood. In the specific context of Ms Khan, Dr Cheok disagreed with this possibility.

WP leaders had, in their evidence, agreed that most of a message Ms Khan had sent to her aides following a meeting they all attended on Aug 8 was true, but also contained an untruth - specifically, that they had told her to take her lie in Parliament "to the grave".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2021, with the headline Raeesah didn't have any mental disorder that would lead her to lie: IMH expert. Subscribe