Son found ‘not criminally responsible’ for killing mother: Experts weigh in on the importance of mental healthcare

Krishen Pillay, 40, was found to not be mentally fit to stand trial and will be detained at the Fort Napier Hospital following the fatal stabbing of his mother Debigee Pillay. Picture: Pixabay

Krishen Pillay, 40, was found to not be mentally fit to stand trial and will be detained at the Fort Napier Hospital following the fatal stabbing of his mother Debigee Pillay. Picture: Pixabay

Published Mar 24, 2024


A Durban man found not criminally responsible for his mother’s death this week has lifted the lid on the importance of addressing mental health issues.

Krishen Pillay, 40, was found to not be mentally fit to stand trial and will be detained at the Fort Napier Hospital following the fatal stabbing of his mother Debigee Pillay.

The stabbing took place on May 13, 2023, a day before Mother’s Day could be celebrated.

The 65-year-old housewife was stabbed to death at their home in Glen Anil, on a Saturday morning at around 8am, allegedly following an argument in which she asked her son to clean his room.

Pillay also stabbed his older sister, who is a medical doctor, but she survived the attack.

He then harmed himself.

But at his first court appearance shortly after his arrest, following his stay in hospital, Durban attorney Anand Nepaul presented to the court that his client suffered from schizophrenia.

He was admitted to Fort Napier for a mental evaluation.

In court proceedings in the Durban Magistrate’s Court recently, it was stated that following observation at Ford Napier and subsequent reports, an inquiry by the courts found that Pillay was not in a proper state of mind at the time of the incident and was also unable to understand the proceedings of a trial.

It further states that Pillay committed the act in question, and that at the time of such commission, was by reason of mental illness or intellectual disability not criminally responsible for the act.

In terms of Section 78, the court found that the accused not guilty (of murder) by reason of mental illness or intellectual disability.

However, according to a statement handed into the court, a family member said Pillay had suffered from mental illness and was diagnosed in 2021, but had refused the treatment.

The family said they had failed to admit him to a facility because admission to a private facility had to be voluntary.

It read that while Pillay was a high-functioning individual for the most part - the onset of Covid-19 pandemic and isolation, losing his job and a long-term partner, could have exacerbated his problems.

The relative said he also abused/used cannabis since high school.

What made the family realise he had a problem was his delusions that people were out to get him and he had hallucinations that birds and bees were bringing him messages.

The relative said that Pillay had no history of violence previously and went on to say that they prayed he gets the proper help in terms of his psychiatric illness.

In light of this case, two Durban-based psychologists have shared their insight into why addressing mental illness issues were of paramount importance.

Dr Kerry Frizelle said it is important to recognise that people who are living with a mental illness like schizophrenia and are receiving effective treatment are no more violent or dangerous than the rest of the population.

“It is actually more likely that people living with a mental illness will harm themselves – or be harmed – than they are to hurt other people.”

Frizelle said this case speaks to the importance of compliance to medication and the need for support services that assist with this.

“It also speaks to the ways in which a number of stressors like we saw during Covid-19 can combine with mental health challenges and result in such a tragedy.

“The reality is this man requires a psychological intervention rather than being sent to a prison.

“It also speaks to the importance of the awareness of additional support for the affected individual and their family when stressors are higher than normal.”

Another psychologist, Rakhi Beekhrum said it’s a tragic reality that, despite the resources at our disposal, mental health stigma persists.

“In some communities, mental illness is looked down upon and misconstrued as either a weakness or due to lack of faith/spirituality.

“Some cultures guard against sharing problems with others, which hinders help-seeking.

“Secrecy about family trauma is common, due to shame and fear or being socially ostracised.”

Beekrum said undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness may have negative to dire consequences.

“Without access to treatment, the risk of self-harm may increase. While in some cases, the presence of mental illness is evident, it may be less obvious in those who are high-functioning,” Beekrum said.

“The impact of untreated mental illness can extend beyond the individual, manifesting in aggression or violence against others, sometimes turning tragic,” she said.

“While mental illness does not predominantly lead to violence, there are some untreated psychiatric disorders, particularly those with severe psychosis, that may increase the likelihood of violence. This may be exacerbated by untreated complex trauma and substance abuse.”

She said the stigma is not just a barrier to help-seeking, but the resultant shame can lead to isolation and social withdrawal, which may in turn exacerbate the mental illness.

“We live in an age where information on mental illness is easily accessible. We still face a challenge in equitable access to mental healthcare. As a society, we need to be more compassionate and less judgemental,” said Beekrum.

“We need to be mindful of how the way that we speak about mental illness perpetuates the stigma, for example, telling a partner that they are ‘bipolar’ or using ‘you need to go to therapy’ as an insult,” she said.

“Mental illness is very real and we all have a role to play in ending the stigma, by educating ourselves, extending compassion and empathy and facilitating support-seeking.”

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