Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Government and church need to provide better structural support for the mentally ill and their caregivers: Raymond's letter to the Media

This letter was published in advance in the Catholic News on Sunday 27th September 2009.

I am encouraged that the government is asking the church and the Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) to do more for the needy (“ Minister urges church to play bigger role in social service”, CN, Sept 13).

Undoubtedly, the mentally ill and their caregivers are in urgent need of support as they are often shunned, isolated and neglected because of the stigma that is associated with mental illness. We need to change mindsets as psychiatric patients are also human. They need love, understanding and support just like anyone else. Above all, they need to live in dignity.

For 15 years I gave up on the Catholic religion as I felt that God had abandoned me as I witnessed how my wife suffered horrifically from the dreaded schizophrenia and depression. Due to the lack of support, I too fell into depression. It was only through the compassion of my parish priest, Father Andrew Wong that brought me back to church. This priest, who continues to support us has transformed my whole life and I will always be indebted to him. Caregivers who do not have a faith will find it extremely difficult to care for a mentally ill family member.

The structural support for psychiatric patients and their caregivers is very weak and needs better support, for there are thousands out there who are suffering in silence. Let us reach out to them so that they can lead more meaningful lives. I am a volunteer with the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) where I often share my three decades of experience in loving and caring for my wife.

I am prepared to offer my services to the government and the church to change mindsets and enable the mentally ill and their family members not to give up on life. Together, we should be able to reclaim lives, save lives. For the road ahead for psychiatric patients and their caregivers will always be challenging, always uncertain.

People with mental illness just need one person to love them and with medication, support and understanding, they will recover. Someday, I hope that mental illness will be treated just like any physical illness.

Raymond Anthony Fernando
Singapore 560601