Tuesday, December 20, 2011

MRT BREAKDOWNS: More concern, please

Raymond's letter is published in The New Paper today, Tuesday 20 December 2011, page 18.  Several other upset Singaporeans have also expressed their views on this matter.

The chaos was scary.  Passengers who were trapped must have been filled with anxiety, and several had breathing problems. 

Imagine how worried their family members must have been?

The train operators need to show more concern for their passengers.

I saw a video recently of a lady who suffers from motion sickness who was fined $30 by an MRT officer for eating a sweet.  The officer refused to accept her explanation. Giddiness can cause a person to collapse, so some flexibility is needed in such situations.

Diabetics, for instance, can collapse if their sugar levels fall too low and may urgently need a drink or sweet.

Those who depend on public transport are rightfully upset over the service disruptions coming so soon after the taxi fare increases.

Now we are left wondering if we should carry a torchlight when travelling on the MRT.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

“Staying committed in a marriage”

“What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined together to strengthen each other in all labour, to minister to each other in all sorrow, to share with each other in all gladness, to be one with each other in the silent unspoken memories?”
- George Eliot (
Mary Anne (Mary Ann, Marian) Evans,

English novelist & journalist -


                    Some friends who read my novel - “Loving a schizophrenic”, teased me into writing a book on how men could woo women.  Others, especially the bachelor boys, who know of my blissful union with my wife, Doris for more than 3 decades, joked that as a committed husband, I was “spoiling the market.”

 At first, I did not take them seriously. Then after reading many reports in the newspapers of how relationships have turned sour and even ugly, with some going to court, I decided to take up the challenge and share secrets on my successful married life in a book on marriage.  Aptly titled, “You by my side - How to stay committed in a marriage and how to value relationships", this book is a must -read not only for married couples but also for anyone who values human relationships.

               I am also concerned that our divorce rates are going up - from 6,904 in 2005 to 7,405 in 2010. 

              Mid-life crisis and Infidelity

             Loneliness, affirmation from another woman or man, and not getting enough attention from a spouse are contributing to sex outside marriage.

A friend of mine told me that every seven years our habits and lifestyle changes.  This is true.  For example, when you are 7 years old, you may craze about collecting dinky toys or wanting to read comic books.  When you reach the age of 14, you may want to start going to discos.  At 21, you may became very fashion conscious, wanting to purchase the latest designer shirts, and sporting the latest hairstyles.  This 7-year switch affects every one of us. 

             Infidelity has been a major factor in marriage break-ups.  It is estimated that roughly 30 to 60% of all married individuals in the U.S. will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage. 

Infidelity appears to be spreading, even here in Singapore. 

In The New Paper report- “I can’t stop cheating”, published on Sunday11 December 2011; a married woman going by the name of “Nancy” has been cheating on her husband several times. Her husband, a religious man whose work keeps him busy does not know of her straying ways. Stricken by guilt, she would end the affairs after a short stint.  For Nancy, it’s her lovers that keep her occupied.

A tribute to my beloved wife

I have always wanted to write a book that pays a memorable tribute to my wife. I know that the 6 chronic illnesses that she has to cope with- including the dreaded schizophrenia and arthritis is going to shorten her life.  Just as I have made a lot of sacrifices for Doris, she has done likewise - for over more than 3 decades.  God bless you, Doris for inspiring me to write this book.  

Doris has often asked me this question which sometimes brings tears to my eyes: “Ray, do you think that you would have been better off if you had married someone else, someone who does not have mental illness?”

“Of course not, Doris!  I love you dearly and I accept you for what you are - illness or no illness,” I hug her and give her my assurances.

Patience- a must in a marriage

Patience is crucial in a marriage.  Sometimes, men unintentionally hurt the feelings of their wives by losing patience when they go shopping. Women, being meticulous tend to take extra time and effort to pick out items which they want to buy. But the husband becomes impatient and tends to hurry the wife.

It is believed that men speak 5,000 words a day; women 12,000 words. This is because women are by nature, more expressive, more articulate. But whatever we say, whether on the part of the wife or husband, we must be sensitive to each other’s feelings.  So let’s use words to uplift and bring joy to a partnership, not use words that destroy it. In a marriage, this is so important.

Coping with chronic illnesses

Chronic illnesses can also see couples fall apart when a spouse who could be the primary caregiver, can no longer carry the responsibility of caring for his stricken loved one.  Besides the illness taking a toll on the caregiver, there are also money problems such as mounting medical bills and loss of key social support that can contribute to lower marital satisfaction.   The caregiver must not only slog to bring home the bacon, he must also do all the errands, the housework and whatever is necessary to care for his/her spouse.   It is an enormous burden and often both partners, isolated from the world, take out their frustrations on one another.  And when they can no longer deal with this extremely difficult situation, divorce seems the only solution.

The power of prayer

I have also discussed the power of prayer in my book, for it is through prayer and my faith that I have managed to overcome huge adversities in my life.  Adversities which I will continue to face in my life as my journey in taking care of Doris is going to get tougher and tougher as her advanced arthritis condition continues to deteriorate. 

Any psychiatrist in the world will tell you that if you practise a faith, your journey in caring for a sick relative will become lighter. This brings to mind what took place during the SARS outbreak in 2003 when my wife suffered a serious relapse of her schizophrenia.  Her psychiatrist, advised me to go back to church and to pray because I found that her recovery was slow.  During that time, I had given up on God and refused to go to church. It was only when I faced a crisis that I visited my priest and pleaded for help.  He advised me to return to church and prayed for both Doris & myself.  Indeed, prayer did help, but it was a long haul- 9 months before she fully recovered.  

Excerpt from the Foreword written by my Parish Priest

I have known Raymond Anthony Fernando and his wife, Doris Lau Siew Lang for more than 10 years, and I have always admired how Raymond has stuck by his wife through thick and thin despite the many adversities he faces in caring for her and loving her.  Even though Doris has struggled to cope with schizophrenia for 40 years, and over the last 5 years with advanced arthritis, Raymond has not given up on her - not once.  During their 37 years of marriage, Doris has suffered 12 relapses of her schizophrenia and as a devoted husband; Raymond has always been there to help lift her up during her most depressing moments.   The stress and demands of Raymond's caregiving responsibilities has many a time seen him suffer ‘caregiver burnout’ and the threat of his own health including depression and anxiety is not something to be taken lightly.  Thankfully, this has not in any way discouraged Raymond from fulfilling his duty as a dedicated and committed husband.   He candidly shares with me that he draws his strength from the Lord. 


The important things in a marriage

Marriage means you have allowed almost everything in your life to be shared with one person – your spouse.  This includes problems, decisions, joy, sorrow, and any amount of freedom you enjoy.  In a nutshell, a marriage means dividing the responsibilities and even the burden by two.

What is important in any marriage is the little things that couples neglect to do - like keeping in touch through the phone, sending emails when the couples are working overseas, etc.  During the period when we were both gainfully employed, Doris and I would keep in touch with each other through the telephone during the lunch hour.  Those phone calls, even if it was to chat for a few minutes, kept us closer together.  My wife still keeps in touch with me on the handphone when I am engaged in some part-time work or going about doing some errands.   Staying connected helps to keep the love burning bright. 

Love and sacrifices 

Doris is heavily dependent on me to provide her with unwavering emotional support that is vital in helping her to overcome illnesses, loneliness and adversities in her difficult life.  There are many occasions when I am out of the house; at times for just an  hour, and she would call me on the handphone and draw out her pent-up emotions: “Ray, I miss you, what time are you coming back, darling?”  And when I return home, she will hug me, saying: “I feel so safe in your arms, dear.”  So when one is caring for a loved one stricken with so many chronic illnesses, there is a dire need to make sacrifices.  This is why although I have skipped many social outings; I do not mind sacrificing my social life because Doris is more important to me than anything or anyone in this world. 

Coping with loss

Coping with the loss of a loved one is never easy.  What would Doris and I say to each other before we draw our last breath?  Generally, people do not like to talk about death.  Like mental illness, it is a taboo subject. “Let's not discuss it, let's avoid the subject,” many people would say.  Doris sees me as the most important person in her life.  She cherishes me as her soul mate, her whole world, someone whom she depends upon and relies on for most, if not her entire adult life.  But death is a destination that we all share and we can never escape from it. 


Although my wife's arthritis condition continues to deteriorate and will inevitably challenge her resolve, Doris still remains happy, optimistic and always positive.  That is because she's got me to care for her.

 Many people have asked my wife this question: “It must be really hard on you and Raymond as you as you struggle to cope with so many health issues. Both your crosses are very heavy. How do you, cope, Doris?”  

"The one thing that has kept me going despite my turbulent health is, love - the love that my soul mate and husband Raymond has, and always showers upon me.  It is with his love that I challenge all odds of my arthritis and schizophrenia conditions - and I will conquer all adversities with You by my Side... Ray,” Doris smiles and declares stoically. (* This is the concluding statement in my book). 

I ‘d like to end of this write-up , in typical style, with a poem- one that is intended to uplift my wife should I pass on before her.

Poem:  “Memories are made of this”

A tribute to my lovely wife, Doris Lau

My Dearest Doris,

You need not worry

For my novel told of our story

Which many regard as one of the finest ever told

It was about you, Doris

My beloved wife

Who has a heart of gold

Movies that we watched together in the cinema

In our room, gazing at the shooting star

In the hall, listening to music on the radio

Dancing cheek to cheek as love flows

Decorating the Christmas tree in December

These are fond memories that we can always remember 

The fragrance of your soft hair

The sacrifices that you gave

With so much love and tender care

The poems that I wrote for you

My undying affection for you that I so often declare

The songs that I wrote for you

Lifted you up when you were feeling blue

I’m sure when anyone of us goes to a better place

With angels and the Lord in all His Grace

We can live in the beautiful memories that we once shared

And when we reminisce, you will not be so sad, but glad

I want you to know that memories are made of this

Can be much more, for there are so many on the list

For anytime we are apart

I can feel you so close

Deep in my heart

The fond memories will always last

These are beautiful memories I cherish

And my love for you, Doris will never diminish


Raymond Anthony Fernando

© copyrightraymondfernandoDec2011

Raymond’s book on marriage is expected to be out at the end of December 2011 or even earlier. There are some excerpts from his book that are used in this article. The book, running into more than 130 pages with 18 chapters, excluding mailing charges cost $16. If anyone wants to purchase this book, do drop me an email (rafcutie@singnet.com.sg ) with your contact details and I will arrange to mail the book to you. A postage fee of $2 per book will be charged to cover mailing costs if the reader request for the book to be mailed to him/her. 

Website of Raymond Anthony Fernando

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Welfare for taxi drivers, no welfare for needy Singaporeans

ComfortDelGRo- a government linked company has announced that it will revise taxi fares effective 12 December 2011. The changes involve:

Basic fares: Flagdown fares will go up by 20 cents for most taxis. Meter fares will go up by two cents per fare band, over a slightly longer distance.

Peak hour surcharge: The peak period will be lengthened in the morning from 6am to 9.30am from the earlier one – 7am to 9.30am. Evening peak hour surcharges will now also apply on Sundays and all public holidays. It will run from 6pm to midnight, compared to 5pm to 8pm from Monday to Saturday at present.

The peak hour charges will be reduced from 35% to 25%.

 City surcharge: The current $3 city surcharge from 5pm to midnight will      apply on Sundays and public holidays as well.

Call cab booking fees: Those booking a taxi in advance will be required to pay much more - $8 compared to the current one of $5.20.

These taxi fare adjustment, according to the National Taxi Association (NTA) President Wee Boon Kim is aimed at improving the take-home income for taxi drivers and their families.

Really, Mr Wee Boon Kim?

But has the NTA ever considered what these increased taxi fares will mean for needy Singaporeans such as those with mobility problems, the disabled, the elderly sick, those with special needs and others who for one reason or the other cannot take the MRT or the buses? 

Has the NTA taken into account that many of those who are sick are asked to see specialists at public hospitals and polyclinics during these peak hour periods because they are “not allowed” to choose their time slots to see the doctors.

Has the NTA considered that by imposing these excessive charges, they are depriving families from meeting up with one another during the weekends or public holidays because given the hectic pace of the Singapore lifestyle, many Singaporeans can only meet up during weekends/public holidays?

Has the NTA considered that with these taxi fares increases, companies & agencies that allow for taxi claims, will incur higher operating costs?

City Cab and Comfordelgro taxi drivers have told me that for the first 7 hours that they drive the taxi, all their earnings go straight to the taxi companies. Many lament to me that if the taxi rental charges are reduced, taxi drivers can earn more, have sufficient rest and be motivated to drive. Why is it that the taxi companies do not want to consider this route?  All they are concerned about in reaping in BIG profits, and they have been doing that.  If the NTA is so concerned about the welfare of taxi drivers, why aren’t they considering reducing the taxi rental charges for their staff?

I, like many Singaporeans, would like to know who owns the taxi companies. Name the key shareholders.

Last Sunday, 27th November 2011, at my church, the priest mentioned that with the coming of Advent, we need to reach out to those who are isolated and lonely.  He mentioned that in a housing estate, an elderly lady wanted so badly to go to hospital because she was sick, but none of the neighbours wanted to help. Finally a catholic who saw what took place decided to call an ambulance and she was sent to hospital for treatment. 

The priest also mentioned that he has seen many of our elderly folks sitting in coffee shops all alone.  He said that they are lonely and have no one to care for them.  He called on the congregation to reach out to them- even if it was to simply chat with them. Social interaction that includes outings for the elderly is vital for their well being? But with these exorbitant taxi charges, NTA would be indirectly depriving the elderly of the much-needed social and recreational needs.

Is Comfortdelgro doing its part as a corporate citizen?

Singapore is becoming unbearable to live in. Escalating costs in Singapore is causing many to fall into depression and divorce cases are on the rise- often over money issues.   Despite assurances by the government that it will listen to feedback, the voices of those in need go unheard.

The proposed hikes by Comfort Delgro allows for taxi drivers to earn more.  But it places a heavy financial burden on the immobile, the disabled and our elderly poor citizens who are heavily dependent on taxis for their medical appointments and other social needs that is so important to their well-being. Many in this group are retired, have little savings and are struggling to cope with health and money issues. 

Earlier this year, despite so many appeals from the public not to increase fares on the MRT and buses, the public transport council went ahead and raised the fares. 

Now we see yet another fare hike. And it is always the same old excuse - rapidly rising operating costs, especially diesel prices. 

My wife who has mobility issues because of her advanced arthritis conditions and other health issues has an average of 8-9 medical appointments in a month. Based on the current taxi fare charges, I would have to spend about $160 to 180 per month, and mind you, I don’t have a full-time job.  There is little or no consideration for the sick and those with special needs. These revised taxi charges are going to dip a deeper hole in my pocket.

Often, to avoid paying the peak hour charges, which current kicks off at 7am in the morning, my wife and I have to leave the house at 6am for her medical appointments at public hospitals. She is on heavy tranquilizers to mange her schizophrenia and depression.

This total lack of consideration for the sick, especially those who are marginalized clearly demonstrates how money has become the “do all and end all.” On top of that, you leave those who are neglected in society to feel that Singapore is not the best home to live in.

In closing, I leave you with this letter which I wrote to the press in August this year. This letter and more than a hundred letters that I wrote to the press over 6 years, pleading for support for the mentally ill and the needy, has gone unanswered. Tells a story, doesn’t it?

Letter to The New Paper: Better subsidy for the disabled, please

My letter on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Friday 5 August 2011.

Going by what has been aired in the media – online, the airwaves and in print, there is clearly much unhappiness about the impending fare hike in public transport fares.

People with disabilities face huge roadblocks in their lives and the lack of support makes it difficult for these marginalised citizens to move on in life.

Family members who are the backbone for such needy citizens could certainly do with financial support, improved access to support and services in their communities.

I am disappointed that the National Council of Social Services' taxi subsidies for disabled people apply only to the trips made in work or school.

Why are subsidies not extended for trips to hospitals and clinics? Perhaps, even to recreational trips which are crucial in helping the disabled reintegrate into society?

For people who have to make many trips to various clinics and hospitals, like my wife, cab fare can be about $160 per month, not counting peak-hour surcharges.

I hope the Government can look into this area. If Singapore is moving towards becoming an inclusive society, it is only logical to show compassion, understanding and support for these needy citizens.


Raymond Anthony Fernando, a part-time writer and motivational speaker, writes on social issues and mental health matters. He runs a website at: www.rayofhope.per.sg/
Check out my latest radio interview on 938 LIVE- Here on podcast:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cat dumped in rubbish bin- Set up website so we can assess mental health

Raymond’s letter to The New Paper is published today on page 21, Wed 30th November 2011.

I refer to the report, “He’s still responsible” (The New Paper, Nov 26).

I’m not at all surprised at the way cat lovers and netizens on forums like Stomp have demanded that Madam Hamidah’s husband, Mr Michael who suffered a relapse of his bipolar condition, be taken to task for his actions.

But some of the comments on Stomp are far from kind. What is the point of showing love to animals, when we are so unkind to a human being who has fallen ill with a mental disorder that is so unpredictable?  Bear in mind that the couple do love cats - otherwise they would not have adopted four cats, would they?

Given the findings of a study by the Institute of Mental Health which reveal that one person in 10 will suffer from some form of mental illness, it is imperative that we cast out nets wider to reach out to everyone in our society.

The key to tackling mental health issues is to secure a better understanding of the illnesses.

One way would be to set up a public funded website for people to do a  self-assessment for potential mental health  problems. 


Make the exercise confidential and available in the four main languages.

The questions asked can be designed to review one’s situation with regard to some of the more common mental health issues including, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, addiction and so on.

Such a screening will not provide a diagnosis, will but will give guidance as to where help can be sought.

It can be managed by experts who should be able to help the person doing the tests decide whether to go for treatment or not.

Grassroots leaders and the Community Development Councils should reach out to the lonely elderly, the vulnerable groups and those who do not have access to computers and carry out face-to-face assessment of residents.

For this, grassroots leaders should be trained in mental health. 

There should also be a system in place to ensure that patients under psychiatric care do not default on treatment and medications.

Madam Hamidah is going to go through some challenging times, so let’s learn to rally around her, instead of giving her more stress.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Anonymous mental health screenings? -Raymond's letter to the press- TODAY Newspaper

The findings of the mental health study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), reported in "I am not mad" (Nov 19), are cause for concern.

With a global financial crisis looming and as stress levels in our fast-paced society increase, there is a need to find quick and sustainable solutions to meet the challenges ahead. One of the biggest hurdles preventing people from seeking treatment for their mental health is stigma.

But as it is important to do so, I suggest that the Ministry of Health (MOH) set up an online site where people could do a voluntary, anonymous self-assessment of potential mental health or addiction problems.

The online questions could be designed to review one's situation with regard to the more common mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and alcoholism
The screening would not provide a diagnosis but give guidance as to where help could be sought. It would inform the person concerned whether or not he/she has symptoms consistent with a condition that would benefit from further evaluation or treatment.

Available in the four main languages, such confidential self-assessment exercises should be managed by professionals.

To further encourage treatment to be sought, perhaps MOH could consider giving heavily subsidised or even free treatment for the first two consultations, be it at public hospitals or by general practitioners who have been trained in basic mental healthcare.

Grassroots leaders and the Community Development Councils could reach out to the lonely elderly, vulnerable groups and those who are unable to access a computer, by carrying out face-to-face assessments with residents.

Any medical certificate issued by IMH should also not bear its name, as there are few enlightened employers. It would be better if such MCs have the National Healthcare Group's endorsement.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Do you have a history of mental illness?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbour.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”

- Mark Twain -

The captioned words above of Mark Twain had long ago set me thinking as to whether I should  take the road less travelled and become a voice for the thousands out there who are struggling with the stresses of life.  I brushed away this thought, only to see it resurrected again during my journey as a caregiver to my wife, Doris who had to struggle with mental illness amongst other health ailments.

For more than 3 decades, I have witnessed the blatant discrimination that sufferers of mental illness face every day in their lonely lives.  Out of my compassion for psychiatric patients and their caregivers, I decided in 2004 to bring to light the plight of these marginalised citizens through advocacy.  It is never easy being a mental health activist – it is a thankless job that many would not do.  There is also an uneasiness that deters people from speaking out on social issues.  In the case of mental illness, this uneasiness is even greater.  Patients and caregivers would rather suffer in silence than speak out openly about their struggles.  They do not want to be identified with the illness that carries a nagging social stigma.

Whilst many people support my advocacy work, I know there are some people who are “uncomfortable” when I raised mental issues in the press or on television and radio.  Some have unkindly resorted to name calling in an attempt to demoralize and humiliate me.

But given the growing number of people - both foreigners and Singaporeans who have lost the will to live and are struggling to cope with mental illness, I fervently believe that we cannot sweep the problems of mental health issues and suicides under the carpet. And I remain committed to being a voice for the “voiceless.”

Passing of champion for disabled

I am shocked and deeply saddened to read in the Straits Times that Miss Nancy Chia, 60 who was the former President and most recently, the honorary secretary of the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA) was found dead in her car on Wednesday- 16th November 2011 (“Champion for disabled found dead in her car”, ST Nov 18).  I know Nancy did a lot of hard work because my wife is a member of HWA and I’ve spoken to her a few times.  Nancy had a lot of passion in her work, and my wife and I would like to express our deepest condolences to her family. 

Serious social problems

There have been many reports in the press about people losing their tempers, the most recent ones being (a) the case in which a local banker was beaten up by a Caucasian over a booking of a taxi.  (b) In another TNP (The New Paper) report, (“They wanted to beat us,” Nov 17), another case of anger erupts.  We read of the “high drama after a road collision resulted in 20 people chasing occupants of a car involved.”

Neighbours are quarreling and cannot get along with each other- two of one whom ended up in a fight and got arrested by the police (TNP, Nov 18- “Fighting over potted plants”).

People here are not able to manage their anger, divorces are going up and poor boy-girl relationships are causing a lot of problems with some hitting out at each other on social media platforms. Financial calamity is hitting many as gambling and money issues become another real problem.  As crowds on the MRT and public places swell, people are becoming agitated and losing their cool easily.

Media’s role

The media has to raise social issues so that policy makers sit down and fine tune their policies that can help everyone on this tiny island to live, work and play in a happy, cohesive and conducive environment.

Noise pollution

There has been much unhappiness over noise pollution affecting the lives of many Singaporeans. Couple of months ago, several people voiced their displeasure over the endless noise that were affecting their rest. One suggestion from a Straits Times reader made a lot of sense. He said we should follow the Hong Kong method and only allow construction work or renovation to be carried out from morning at around 9am and end off at 12noon or 1pm. It is a practical suggestion, and I fully support his idea.

I now reproduce the letter which I wrote to the press on noise pollution.

“S'pore's becoming too noisy”

The most serious problem created by sound pollution is the impact on our health

Letter from Raymond Anthony Fernando

(TODAY Newspaper on Monday 21st Jan 2011)

I REFER to the letter, "Can't sleep for the MRT clatter (Jan 27), and share Tan Lye Chye's sentiments.

In our fast-paced lives, our homes should be a place where we can relax and have peace of mind. Yet, this is not possible in the estate where we live in Ang Mo Kio because all the year round, there is noise pollution almost seven days a week.

Before residents can fully recover from two years of noise from the Lift Upgrading Programme, we will now have to bear with more noise pollution and inconvenience from the impending upgrading inside our flats, with the changing of pipes, doors and toilets.

I will then have to search for alternative accommodation as my wife, who is coping with schizophrenia, cannot bear excessive noise. Her mobility is also severely impaired because of arthritis.

Shouldn't the HDB show some empathy and provide us with affordable alternative accommodation if they insist on carrying out such works? Should not there be consideration shown to the sick and those who are convalescing at home?

Funeral wakes are carried out almost every month opposite our block and the chanting can last as late as 11pm over three to four days. Every week, the irritating noise of the blower used to remove the cut grass disrupts the quiet we so badly need at the close of the week.

There is also excessive noise when clan associations regularly carry out their activities late in the night, and this sometimes stretches for a week. In the middle of the night, the beating of the drums does not allow anyone a wink of sleep.

Karaoke singing in HDB flats should not be encouraged. To my left, a couple sings at the top at their voices every weekend, sometimes past 1am. Above my flat, another family also engages in this activity with total disregard for residents.

The most serious problem created by sound pollution is the impact it has on our health. Besides disrupting sleep, noise pollution has also been linked with stress, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

As I have to write for a living, I have no choice but work in the wee hours. Doesn't a caregiver also need rest? Little wonder I have suffered burnout countless times.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

While it is necessary to upgrade and redesign our landscape and city, let us be mindful that our citizens need to have sufficient rest; given that many work long and taxing hours. They also need to spend quality time with their families.

All these issues need to be addressed and tackled - swiftly.

Mental illness declaration

Just go take a look at any Government job application form and you will find a clause there which requires the applicant to declare if he/she has a history of mental illness.   Why is this requirement still in place? This clause handed down since the colonial time is clearly outdated, and has to be removed if we want to give equal opportunity for all Singaporeans to secure jobs and to encourage treatment if a person is going through depression or other types of mental illness, because the illness is treatable.  If the Government takes the lead, the private sector will most likely follow suit. I have raised this matter in the press, but no one wants to give a reply.

In The New Paper (TNP) on Thursday, 17th November 2011, a maid plunged 15 storeys from her employers flat because she was depressed. Her employers tried to save her, but could not do so because she was out of control.

This begs the question:  Are foreigners who come to work in Singapore screened for mental health issues?

Whether we like it or not, mental illness is becoming a BIG problem. We cannot avoid it, but we must find quick and sustainable solutions to tackle suicides, mental illness and stress related problems.


I urge the Government to consider the following:

( a) Set up a task force at a national level to tackle suicide, mental illness issues and stress –related problems. I am emphasizing national level because all these problems are happening in the heartlands. So the CDCs must also play an active role and come on board this recommended national task force committee. 

(b) Members of Parliament (MPs) need to raise the plight of the mentally ill and their caregivers in parliament.  A few years ago, I wrote to several MPs, pleading with them raise our plight, but none, including those in the opposition wanted to take this matter up. One told me, “Oh, I will have to think about it,” and she never did anything.” Another told me, “I am too stressed.” Others choose to ignore my plea.   Yet aren’t MPs elected by the people, supposed to serve the people - ALL people.

( c ) Reach out far and wide to get people to better understand mental health issues. Even doctors outside IMH need to learn about mental health because a fragile mind needs extra care and support.  A troubled mind can easily snap if circumstances are not conducive.  And I can give clear insights into this.

Why is mental illness such a taboo subject that it does not merit serious discussion and debate?  In 2006, I wrote a letter to the Straits Times and cautioned that depression was going to become a major cause of disability- worldwide. How many people believed me?  Look at the situation today.

Shouldn’t we be proactive instead of reactive?
Raymond Anthony Fernando

The writer is an advocate for the mentally ill and runs a website & 2 blogs – www.rayofhope.per.sg/

 He is also the author of 13 books. His wife, Doris who has battled schizophrenia for 40 years is also an author – 6 books to her name.  
The article is also available on The Online Citizen


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

“Suicides in Singapore: Address it, not shun it”

“I expect to pass through this life but once.  Therefore, if there be any kindness I can show, or good things I can do for another human being, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.
- William Penn -

William Penn’s well known quote that motivates us to show kindness to everyone is worth practising given that we are living in an unpredictable world.  An unpredictable world calls for us to prepare ourselves for uncertainties and become more predictable.  To help our brothers and sisters who are finding it so hard to cope. 

The recent spate of suicides at Bedok Reservoir and the growing number of people, including the lonely elderly, who have lost the will to value life, has prompted me to pen this article.    

Often people who lose the will to live and commit suicide have struggled with depression or one of the other types of depressive illnesses, and have not sought professional treatment.  It is sad that although depression is the most treatable of all types of mental illness, 50% of persons with depression and anxiety disorders do not seek help here in Singapore.  This is the same as the estimated 50 -60% in most developed countries.  A person who has depression feels hopeless and often does not look forward to a brand new day.  Some sleep most of the time to forget their worries.

People who suffer from depression are in dire need of support.  They need friends because loneliness and a feeling of being uncared for will make them feel that life is not worth living. 

Poor relationships, be it in the office or in personal life is also a cause for depression.  Sometimes, it is not work that will “kill you”, but people.

Highlight cases of suicide in the media

Straits Times reader Lim Wei Jan wrote in on 28 October this year appealing to the media to cease sensationalizing suicide cases as it could create a copycat syndrome.

While media stories about suicides may be newsworthy and can cause harm, the media being a powerful tool for communication can play an important role by highlighting suicide prevention and stories of people who have overcome adversities.   It would also be useful to seek the views of experts on this topic.

The media, if it needs to report on suicide cases could also focus on :

(a)   Trends in suicide rates

(b)   Recent advanced treatments

     ( c )  Individual stories of how treatment was life - saving

(d)   Stories of people who despair without resorting to suicide

But I’m glad that some newspapers like The New Paper have highlighted stories of people who are overcoming adversities.  It is a step in the right direction.

Real people, real stories

Sometimes it is necessary to raise issues on suicide because it creates more awareness for policy makers to understand the needs of those who are going through the stresses of life and who are in dire need of support.   Just like mental illness that is affecting many in schools, in our offices, in homes, in churches, and in the heartlands, these social problems should not be swept under the carpet.  Rather, we must talk about it, discuss it and find quick solutions. 

I survived a suicide in 1995 and I really regret giving up on life.  I can’t imagine the damage it could have done to my family if I had not survived.  The doctor’s advice to me after he saved me still lingers fresh in my mind: “Don’t ever do such a thing again, Mr. Fernando because there is always a way out.”   And that is the key message I would like to convey to anyone who feels that life is not worth living – There is always a way out.

I encourage people who are severely distressed and want to give up on life to seek treatment - immediately.  Believe me it helps!

 Warning signs of depression

Having gone through depression for a few years, I would like to share with you some of the warning signs that you need to look out for when coping with depression.  These are:

1.    Excessive fatigue or disturbed sleep

2.    Weight loss

3.    Losing interest in everything

4.    Difficulty concentrating

5.    Failing memory

6.    Diminishing sexual interest

7.    Inability to experience pleasure, even in situations that are normally pleasurable

8.    Feeling worthless - that life is meaningless

9.    Having thoughts of suicide

For ladies, depression sometimes comes right before their menstrual period.  Some women expect to feel depressed, even making a habit of it.  There is a way to fight it.  First of all, take your mind off it.  Do things that you enjoy doing, like dancing, listening to music and watching comical movies.  Engaging in happy things makes you feel happy and also makes you look confident.

 Note: Any change, serious loss or stress - e.g a divorce, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or move to a new home can trigger depression, usually temporary, but sometimes requiring treatment.

Research has revealed that a combination of antidepressant medication along with psychotherapy - otherwise known as talk therapy is the quickest, most effective treatment for treating depression.  Sometimes those suffering from depression just need a listening ear.  Let us find the time to rally around them during their difficult moments.

Schizophrenia: Look out for the warnings signs!

After caring for my wife, Doris for thirty-seven years, I am now more alert to the warning signs of schizophrenia.  These are some of the symptoms that she displays when she falls into a relapse.

-                     She complains of headaches

-                     She cannot sleep at night

-                     She becomes very nervous

-                     Many thoughts run through her troubled mind

-                     She is restless

-                     She becomes confused

-                     She is deep in thought

-                     She has overwhelming sadness

-                     She has difficulty concentrating

-                     She starts recalling unpleasant memories

-                     She has a loss of appetite

-                     She believes that people are talking about her

-                     She becomes fearful, suspicious and argumentative 

-                     Dandruff starts appearing on her forehead and on her hair despite shampooing

-                     Finally, she has suicidal thoughts and at this stage, she must be warded.

Finding solutions to suicide

With the financial crisis looming over our heads, it is crucial for all of us to play a part in helping to bring the suicide rate down.

Bring available supporting services right to the doorstep

Sometimes it is necessary for us to bring supporting services right to the doorstep of those who are in desperate need of  help.  People who attempt suicide are likely to do it again if they fall into depression at another period in their life.  When we read of stories in the media of people who are unable to cope with the stresses of life, we can help to highlight such cases to Members of Parliament, Government agencies, the CDCs and VWOs who are in the business of mental health care.  For a start, government agencies need to scan the newspapers everyday and pick up news of people struggling in life and then bring the supporting measures to the person concerned or to their family members because people suffering from depression or other types of mental illness are quite often in denial.

Grassroots leaders must also be trained and equipped to look out for warning signs of people struggling with mental illness as they are the “eyes and ears” of their respective MPs.   

Face-to-face contact

A friend of mine told me that in Australia if you are contemplating suicide and call the hotline, the professionals will come down onsite and talk you out of it. Even though it will involve resources and money, I feel this could help to lower the suicide rate because nothing beats face-to-face contact. 

Form a suicide prevention committee

To tackle head-on the problem of suicides, it would be useful for the Government to form a task force comprising of experts and even people who have overcome suicides, to brainstorm for ideas and find quick solutions to suicides.  We must not see it as “extra work” but do so with a keen sense of saving and reclaiming lives.

Form retiree clubs

Most workers who retire will lose key social support when they have left their jobs.  They become lonely when colleagues stay out of touch. Loneliness, as mentioned earlier can lead to depression. So a good way to ensure that retirees can still lead fruitful and meaningful lives after they are no longer in the work force is to form Retirees Clubs. Government agencies and private companies could initiate this suggestion for workers who hit 50 while they are still contributing in their respective ministries and companies.

Public education

We must intensify public education on depression and other types of mental illness, and coping skills in every part of Singapore – in schools, in the heartlands, in offices and in churches because mental illness is a hidden illness, a hidden disability that is affecting a large number of our population.

And as Christmas 2011 is just around the corner, I would like to wish one and all yuletide greetings with this poem which I penned, entitled “Christmas made in Singapore.”

Christmas made in Singapore

The annual light-up at Orchard Road

People in festive moods gathering by carloads

The Christmas lights that sparkle at night

Here the city comes alive and it is such a beautiful sight

Christians who congregate in churches to attend midnight mass

Start of the Christmas celebrations that for 12 days, will last

We see Christmas carols being sung in many places

We see goodwill being spread in many places

Children all excited decorating the Christmas tree

The smiles on their pretty faces are a sheer delight to see

“Santa Claus is coming tonight” all would say

For surely the gifts St. Nick brings will make their day

As in many cities, the Christmas feast in Singapore is an annual tradition

Family and friends tuck into meals prepared in mummy’s kitchen

Providing for the poor, sickly and less fortunate people in Singapore

Is a joyful event,  an annual affair

During Christmas, volunteers raise more funds because they care and share

The true meaning of Christmas is to give with our hearts

This for many will in the New Year, be a good start

So let’s uplift and comfort anyone who is finding it hard to cope

Give them the will to value life and embrace hope

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all

Spread  kindness and love and you will always stand tall


Raymond Anthony Fernando


Disclaimer:  Although this sharing tips mentioned in this article has worked very well for the author and his wife who has schizophrenia, readers should not regard the tips described as the only way to help in the healing of ALL patients suffering from depression and other types of mental illness as different people respond to different ways of treatment, rehabilitation and care.  Please consult a qualified doctor, counsellor or psychologist for more information.  

The writer is the recipient of the Model Caregiver Award 2007 and Mental Heath Champion 2010. He runs a website at : www.rayofhope.per.sg/
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