Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mental health-care system needs major overhaul

Mental health advocate responds to the nationwide mental health survey: Mental health-care system needs major overhaul

Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to the New Paper was published today, Wednesday 2 December 2009, Page 10.

I refer to the article on a nationwide mental health survey, “15,000 Singaporean adults to participate” (The New Paper, 25 Nov).

Due to the dearth of information on mental health, many people still believe that mental patients are a burden to society. Television dramas often portray mental patients as violent people who are trouble makers.

When we do not understand mental illness, we become biased against the sufferers.

With this survey, I hope that the Institute of Mental Health and the Government will make a concerted effort to provide better support for caregivers.

This is a group that is vulnerable into developing mental illness themselves because of the tremendous stress they face in caring for their loved ones.

In 2006, when my wife suffered her 11th relapse of schizophrenia, I was depressed and I could not get any support from any of the mental health providers.

One told me: “I'm sorry to hear that your wife has had a relapse. Please take care of yourself.”

A nurse manager suggested I see a psychiatrist and go back on medication for the depression that I struggled with in 1995. I refused to go back on medication because all I wanted was for someone to comfort me and walk me through that difficult period.

To tackle mental illness head on, a holistic approach, involving perspectives of doctors, patients and caregivers is needed because if you are a caregiver for the first time, you will be groping in the dark.

Even though I have wealth of experience in caring for my wife who has excelled in life through her literary skills and my encouragement, it has not been easy for me to change mindsets, even among mental health-care providers.

It is time to re-look the bridge to mental health care, for the system needs a major overhaul.


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