Thursday, February 12, 2009

Government and community support need to de-stigmatise mental illness

I refer to the article in the Straits Times, “MPs raise concerns on proper care for the mentally ill (ST Feb 11).

I agree with Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan that if persons with mental illness are institutionalised and locked up in a mental asylum, they will not improve and will go downhill.

As correctly pointed out by Mr Khaw, many mental patients can recover if they are given a chance and are offered jobs. De-stigmatisation of mental illness requires a concerted effort by all government ministries and the community. The health ministry cannot do it alone. Therefore it is imperative that the clause asking job seekers to declare if he/she has mental illness be removed, because this mandatory declaration filtered down from the colonial era is in itself stigmatising. In the U.S. employers are not allowed to ask this question. Singapore must be a land of opportunity for every citizen, and that includes people who have recovered from mental illness.

Whilst the middle-income group could afford to buy riders to cover mental illness, the Ministry of Health (MOH) could implement medishield coverage for the lower-income group who do not have fulltime jobs, are poor and lack family support.

People who have lost their jobs are likely to fall into depression and some have already committed suicide. In some countries like Australia, trained psychiatric nurses manage helplines round the clock, and will come over to your house and talk you out of killing yourself. It has proven to be successful in Australia.

Caregivers of the mentally ill must be given the crucial structural support to help them travel an arduous journey.

To tackle mental illness head on, we must be prepared to discuss this subject openly, be proactive and be prepared to try out bold ideas. For as Henry Ford once said: Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing seems impossible.”

Raymond Anthony Fernando

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