Monday, January 25, 2010

Get rid of stigma of mental illness: Raymond's letter to the press

My letter to the press was published today in the New Paper, Monday 25 January 2010, page 19.

I refer to the report, “Who will care for her when I'm gone? (The New Paper, 16 Jan).

Bipolar disorder sufferer Goh Hai Eng is not alone in her fears.

As a caregiver to my wife who has struggled with schizophrenia for 35 years, I too worry a great deal about who will take care of her if I should pass on first.

There needs to be better support for caregivers whose lives are already greatly strained by loved ones suffering from mental illnesses.

This tragedy involving a psychiatric patient is bound to further stigmatise the mentally ill.

There have been calls by neighbours to lock up people suffering from mental illness as they are perceived to be troublemakers.

But this is certainly not the right solution.

We must encourage treatment and remove the stigma that is attached to mental illness. I have always felt that the Institue of Mental Health (IMH) should change its name to “Mind Wellness Institute”. Avoid using the word “mental”.

Perhaps incentives can be given so that patients are more willing to continue their treatment or laws can be changed so that IMH can be empowered to bring people suffering from mental illness for mandatory treatment.

The new sentencing options by the Ministry of Home Affairs where mandatory treatment orders require offenders to undergo psychiatric treatment is the right move.

It will certainly help to reduce the hardship, suffering and anxiety which family members face when a loved one is stricken with mental illness.

Many patients are in denial and will not want to seek treatment because of the social stigma that is attached to mental illness.

Once they are able to persuade the stricken ones to undergo psychiatric treatment, caregivers have to ensure that there is strict compliance with the doctors' orders concerning medication and continuing treatment. But this is never easy because nobody likes to take medicine.

This is where incentives can help. Why not have an annual lucky draw in which those who do not default on their treatment and medications for 12 months are given a chance to win holiday packages, cash, vouchers and so on?

I am sure the Ministry of Health (MOH) and its partners can get established companies to sponosor these, as it is a worthy cause.

Another way to reward those who continue treatment is for MOH to top up the medisave accounts of such patients.

IMH, which sees the largest number of psychiatric patients here, must also play its part in ensuring that no one under its care misses their appointments.

An alert system that prompts the outpatient clinics when patients miss their appointments should be interfaced with IMH's community psychiatric department, which can then send a team to find out why the patients have not followed up on treatment.


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