Monday, October 17, 2016

Article on Happy TV: DPM Tharman –Right Choice for PM

There are many Singaporeans who would like to see DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam take over as the new Prime Minister (PM) at the next General Elections, although some are of the view that Singapore is not yet ready to have an Indian Prime Minister. But times have changed and there is a need to move with the times.  

Why can’t we have an Indian PM when there is a move to elect an Executive President of a minority race?  Let’s not practice double standards, shall we?

DPM Tharman has all the qualities that make him the number 1 choice for the top job in the cabinet. Yet, it is troubling that this humble politician does not want the job.  

The traits and values that make up the character of a politician are in a way similar to a good business leader who is able to lead by example– and with a supporting team of ministers can help to grow the economy.  If a Prime Minister is not able to have foresight and vision, and bring in revenue into the country or is corrupted, it is the people who will go through severe hardship. History has shown that many countries have collapsed because of greed and corruption on the part of corrupted leaders.

Why do I say he is the best choice?   To begin with, DPM Tharman is a man of character, honest and has much integrity; in short a man of character.  A leader, whether as a CEO of a company or a country must be able to relate to people at all levels. DPM has those qualities and shows much compassion to the less fortunate in society and they include those with physical and mental disabilities. Moreover, this is a man who often puts in long and draining hours, just so residents can be well taken care of.

A senior executive of the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) told me that when she brings patients with mental illness for support that includes financial assistance, DPM Tharman will be there past the hour of 11pm to help. The executive from SAMH, Ms. Helen Yong tells me that she is always happy to see DPM Tharman at the Meet-The People’s session because she knows that her clients will benefit from seeing their favorite and caring MP.

I have also read reports of this exceptional politician who calls on employers to provide jobs for those with disabilities. 

I still remember the time when DPM Tharman replied to my email in the wee hours of the morning when all of us are fast asleep. His 3am email to me was encouraging as he tried so hard to offer support to my wife knowing fully well that struggling with a severe mental disorder is not an easy journey – both for the patient and her caregiver.

A good leader must also be cool and level-headed, and one who is able to think through carefully before making decisions, at times taking a tough stand and saying no when the need arises. Isn’t it so true that Mr. Shanmugaratnam possesses those qualities?

Another plus for DPM Tharman: He does not resort to gutter politics and humiliates the opposition candidates at the elections, but will engage them in a gentlemanly debate.

I urge DPM Tharman not to sidestep the role of our future PM but have the courage and conviction to take on this tough job – at least for the period 2020 – 2024/25, during which time a new PM can be groomed amongst the 4th generation of office bearers. 

So go, Tharman, go!                  

Raymond Anthony Fernando






Friday, October 14, 2016

Sharing of stories of loved ones with mental illness will promote caregiving as a noble job

Ms Chan Li Shan wrote an article for The Straits Times that focused on caregiver stories.  

In her article, “When sharing stories of mental illness that are not your own”; Friday 14th Oct 2016,, the writer who is also a mental health advocate, questions whether it is proper to reveal accounts of their loved ones with mental and physical illnesses.  In retrospect, I do not agree with her– at all, and let me explain why.  For it is only proper and professional to provide different perspectives when reports and articles are published.  In short, there are 2 sides to a coin.
Before my wife, Doris Lau Siew Lang died 2 and a half years ago, she authored 8 books – a pretty remarkable feat for someone with a severe mental disorder. And I am damn proud of her!

Caregiving is never an easy journey and unfortunately many people – educated ones included, view caregiving as a burden.  If a caregiver has the unenviable task of looking after a spouse with mental illness, they can be encouraged and motivated to give unconditional love to their partners by fondly remembering the sanctity of marriage which speaks of caring for a spouse “in sickness and in health, for better or worse.” This is exactly how I brought my late wife, who coped with schizophrenia for 44 years, to a full recovery.

In the case of a caregiver looking after a parent or sibling with health conditions, adopt the filial piety concept to walk the journey with conviction – and share their stories.

Caregiving requires understanding, lots of patience and sacrifices – and the willingness to demonstrate empathy – often 24/7.

Caregivers who have the courage and conviction to share their stories will of course have to seek consent from their loved ones before making the revelations – be it through the media, books or talks.  It took a while before my wife was comfortable for me reveal her struggle with schizophrenia, but after some persuasion from me, she gave her blessing.  Doris realized that she should not ‘stay hidden’ just because she has a mental disorder.  It was then that my novel “Loving a Schizophrenic” became a hit, a bestseller, reaching out to 4,000 readers here in Singapore as well overseas – in countries like Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and even as far as America.  

The success of my novel motivated my wife to share candidly her own journey with the illness, and that too became a hit, with a gentleman from Czechoslovakia wanting to have her novel, “Beautiful memories, precious love”  translated into the Czech language.  

The true and candid sharing of our stories inspired so many people, who included caregivers and patients. They came to our home, contacted me by email and on social media when my wife and I did not shy away from telling it all.  Together, we gave encouragement to caregivers and patients and they all willing went for treatment to manage their mental health conditions.

Such true accounts can inspire other caregivers, especially those who are novices, to embrace caregiving as a noble job; something which I have always advocated for. 

People having to travel the caregiving journey must hear and see success stories to be motivated, just as in marriages.   

So let us be matured enough to open up freely – with the approval of course of the patients who have recovered as it’s an excellent way to not only raise awareness of such conditions, but an opportune way to de-stigmatise mental illness.

In closing, even if resilient caregivers are not recognized for their sacrifices, dedication and commitment and when people who do not understand fully the caregiving journey become so judgemental, Jesus will always be the Silent Listener to every conversation, and the rewards will come slowly, but surely. I have benefited from His love as well as that of my Doris. .
Model Caregiver 2007 , Mental Health Champion 2010 & Singapore's leading Advocate for Mental illness

From a former journalist from The New Paper who just wrote to me: "Hi Raymond, after all these years, I still remember the afternoon I spent with you and Doris at your house when I was a reporter for The New Paper. It was a privilege to be there. I was touched by the love you showed your wife. I remember you mentioned you saying how difficult sometimes for you to bring her to an appointment by taxi, when she resisted. And how you married her even though you knew she was suffering from the condition then. " -Ng Tze Yong -



Thursday, October 13, 2016

HDB Must Strike the Right Balance in Sale of Public Housing

Recently, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong made announcements on the sale of the Built-To-Order (BTO) flats.

The minister noted that the BTO launch in November has seen a good response due to the demand for such flats.  He added with changes in the public housing policy, the raising of the income ceilings allowed for more people to qualify for BTO flats, as well as enhanced grants. With the government’s effort to encourage more Singaporeans to get married, this is a healthy step as having a roof over one’s head is always a top priority for those who want to start a family.

But, despite the grants, the sale of public housing has soared.  How many couples fresh into the workforce will be able to meet the cost of their HDB flats – be it BTO or resale flats.

For example, my 3-room flat in Ang Mo Kio which my late wife and I purchased 30 years ago cost only $18,200.  Now this same flat can so easily be sold for more than $300,000.  And with the MRT system being built some 400 metres from my block, it likely that the flats in my area will fetch an even higher price.  The location is good, the rooms are spacious and with the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) just completed, there are people wanting to buy our homes.  Many property agents are seizing on the HIP and are often placing their flyers on our gates when they are unable to do so with the secured letters boxes which prevent junk mail from getting in.  

With the sale of property in popular areas in big demand that fetches top dollar, many homeowners are now doing away with the hiring of property agents and are taking the initiative to sell their homes by themselves. Normally, a property agent will take an attractive percentage from the sale of the home, with bungalows and condos reaping in larger commissions.   With this move, a sufficient number of property agents who are dependent on property sales to earn a living are likely to find it hard to put food on their table. 

There is talk that to prevent homeowners from profiteering, it is just a matter of time before the HDB acts to prevent owners in making a quick buck. People are worried sick that if they lose their jobs, they will be in dire straits so this could be one reason why they take this route. 

In yet another scenario, those who purchased condos or bigger HDB flats in prime areas may have had the means to do so in the past when they had a well-paying job or with dual incomes in the family. But what happens when they are retrenched or have lost their jobs due to restructuring?

When such residents approach their Member of Parliament (MP), they will be asked to downgrade. Personally, I am of the view that financial assistance could be offered by the MP to those who have lost their jobs rather than asking owners to sell their property because noise pollution becomes a real problem in us having to live in a healthy and peaceful environment. Moreover relocating can be very stressful for those who are suddenly out of work. Why the need to add more stress to families who are struggling to make ends meet?

To this end, it is important for the HDB to strike the right balance taking into consideration the factors on the sale of property, for although there will always be people who want to profit from property, there will also be those who have little or no choice but to sell their property to survive.

Raymond Anthony Fernando




Monday, October 10, 2016

Media – An Important Role in De-stigmatizing Mental Illness

Dear all,

Do find time to read this article, here on Happy TV. It is high time that compassion is shown to those who make huge sacrifices as caregivers to the mentally ill and yet, suffer all alone. Pope Francis has repeatedly called on Catholic Churches all over the world to fully support the mentally ill & their caregivers. Is this being practiced?



Raymond Anthony Fernando

About 5 years ago when my wife was still alive, a lady friend told me that in a game show on a TV program in America, people were asked to name secrets, which they would be too shameful to reveal or talk about.  They were given a list of three secrets to choose from:  Taking drugs on the sly, robbing people and having a mental illness.  Surprisingly, most people chose to have a mental illness as the most shameful thing to reveal.

I have much admiration for people who are willing to speak candidly on mental health issues. One such person is Ms. Sukriti Drabu whose letter to the Straits Times gave insightful peeks into the reality of mental illness (“Raise awareness of realities mental illness sufferers' face”; Wednesday 5th Oct 2016).  I applaud her for her candid views and am in full agreement with her that awareness and open discussions on mental illness are elusive.  This attitude has to change if we want to work towards giving every citizen equal opportunities with a meaningful purpose in life.

It is not just teens who are vulnerable to mental health issues like eating disorders and depression, but the elderly, as well as caregivers of the mentally ill who are often isolated and shunned.  Mental illness must never be viewed as a ‘shameful’ illness, but unfortunately, this is the case because of a lack of understanding and fear are the biggest obstacles to those who have to struggle with mental disorders. Both the sufferers and their caregivers are pleading for acceptance.  Can we not hear their cries for help?

When someone who has been working for decades loses his/her job, they lose key social support and with no fixed monthly income and friends disappearing into thin air, they are likely to fall into depression. This is magnified when they have been caregivers for decades where the risk of suicide is high after they have lost their spouse, for grieving can take years to heal. The reality is that when a depressed person has attempted suicide, he/she is likely to do again if the vital support structure is weak.  I am speaking from real life experiences.

Added to these woes, if a caregiver has chronic illnesses and is unable to receive the much- needed support – be it in terms of financial assistance or home help services when he/she is not able to afford it, they will find life worthless.  This is the grave situation I am in, with cataract formation in both my eyes.

I am not eligible for the pioneer generation package with just 6 months short of receiving its benefits; unable to receive any form of financial assistance from the Silver Support Scheme and the monthly financial assistance scheme from the Catholic Church of the society St Vincent De Paul (SVDP) has been stopped after my wife died. The reason given by the SVDP is that the assistance given to me in the past was because my wife was mentally ill.  But does the SVDP not know that the grief I am enduring for more than 2.6 years has triggered a relapse of my depression? 

In today’s developed societies, the mass media is a powerful tool that can impact public perceptions of mental illness.  Inaccurate or incomplete information in the media on mental illness will lead to false beliefs confusion, conflict, and delays in receiving treatment.

That said, I applaud MediaCorp for producing the TV drama “Left behind” where the reality of depression and the toll it takes on sufferers are highlighted. More such shows should be produced. More awareness can be raised through social networks like HAPPY TV. 

In addition, all mental health providers and government agencies should embrace those who are ever willing to share valuable life experiences through talks and not see it as extra work.

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S – 43.8 million, or 18.5% experiences mental illness in a given year. Must we wait for the figures here to equal that in America before we act – swiftly and decisively?     

As the world celebrates World Mental Health day this October, please spare a thought for those who cries for help go unheard.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

Model caregiver 2007 & Mental Health Champion 2010

Footnote:  You might want to read this as well:

More seniors in Singapore taking their lives


Monday, September 19, 2016

Letter to The New Paper:  SEX-VIDEO SUICIDE

Punish those who drive others to suicide

My letter to The New Paper (TNP) is published today, Monday 19th September 2016.

Driving a person to the brink of insanity where one is forced to take one’s own life is a cruel thing to do, and I was moved when I read about the Italian woman in the report “Sex-video shame leads to suicide (The New Paper; Sept 17).

Love is a many-splendored thing, but when it turns sour, and hate and jealousy take control of broken relationships, a lot of things can go dreadfully wrong.

A wrong turn in life can turn one’s whole world upside down.

Depressed people who are ridiculed and humiliated will experience severe emotional pain mixed with guilt, unmanageable anxiety and anger.

When most people commit suicide, they don’t really want to die. They are crying out for help. 
I am glad that the authorities here have come down hard on men who filmed their lovers and then use the videos or photos to blackmail them when love goes bad.
But the Mental Capacity Act should have more bite to deal with those who are instrumental in causing a depressed person to experience a horrible death.
It is devastating for the families of those who commit suicide.
While we cannot put a price tag on a person’s life, the law should not only jail the criminal in such cases, but also make him pay compensation.


Footnote:  Social media platforms such as Wechat, Facebook and Skype are being used by some individuals and syndicates to trap men into engaging in sex conversations and videos after which blackmailing takes place. The law must come down hard on such people who want to destroy lives and make a quick buck.



Monday, September 12, 2016

Raymond's letter to The New Paper: ZIKA VIRUS : Air updates during ad breaks? It’ll cause unnecessary alarm

My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today, Monday 12th September 2016.

In the letter “Air Zika updates on TV during ad breaks”, (The New Paper; Sept 5) reader Eunice Li Dan Yue suggested that the location of active clusters and the number of cases be constantly provided on the small screen. 

I do not agree as I believe this may cause alarm. 

It should be enough to have Zika updates broadcast during the news.

The authorities have advised Singaporeans to remain calm, and assured us that everything is being done to ensure the disease is under control.

People need to be educated on the prevention of infectious diseases, but we cannot live in fear all the time.

A few days ago, a feeder bus driver advised me not to travel to Aljunied and other areas with Zika clusters.

But I do not see any need to just stay at home and watch TV.

This is precisely why there must not be an overkill of the Zika virus updates.