Being a caregiver to a mentally ill person is very challenging and energy draining. However, when you are a caregiver who is not a formally trained, this can lead to unbelievable stress in your life, and it can rip apart families, marriages, parental relationships, as well as your own inner self.
The task of a taking care of a loved one with schizophrenia or bipolar person is especially difficult and painful as these illnesses are unpredictable and requires round-the-clock supervision. It is like walking in a minefield - you never know when the bomb will explode. As the sole caregiver to my wife who has has suffered horrifically from schizophrenia since the age of 17, I know only too well how painful the journey is.
Caregivers are at increased risk of depression and other health problems as a result of the stress of being a caregiver. It is therefore crucial for caregivers to take a break periodically. Having respite care can enable the caregiver to keep providing rather than burning out or becoming ill.
Some local governments in first world countries, like U.K. help pay for respite care for caregivers because they fully understand the burnout which the carers have to endure everyday of their lives.
Respite care is not a luxury. It is necessary for the well-being of the person in your care and for you.
In Singapore, the focus is on the patient and often the caregiver is forgotten.
The government should look into the welfare of caregivers who are prepared to walk the less travelled road.
The perfect sanctuary
Some months ago, I shared my experience as a caregiver to my wife to about 100 Catholics at the Catholic Church of St Ignatius in Kings Road. Before the talk, I was invited to rest at the garden near Kingsmead Hall. This is where retreats are held for Catholics who wish to experience a spiritual journey. The ambience was peaceful and serene. It is the perfect sanctuary for anyone who needs to find peace of mind and want to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the stressful urban lifestyle.
The Singapore Government could send a team over to this Church to study how it can build a similar sanctuary for caregivers who desperately need respite. Such a home away from home, with no religious teachings, can also be rented out at affordable prices for those with special needs who are unable to bear with excessive noise from upgrading works that are carried out periodically in HDB estates.
If we want caregiving to become a noble job, we need to build the infrastructure that is vital in making life easier for our marginalised communities.
Try as hard as I can, I am unable to find a suitable day care centre for my wife during periods when there is excessive noise. I read with interests that the MCYS is planning to beef up the number of childcare teachers in child care centres and also to expand the number of such learning centres across the island. Yet, nobody feels it necessary to provide affordable daycare centres for recovered psychiatric patients who have also contributed much to the economy during the periods when they were gainfully employed.
Nursing homes and daycare centres need not have an environment that looks depressing and gloomy. It can be “tailored” to the retreat centre at the Church of St Ignatius (mentioned above) that will help to lift the dampened spirit and a troubled mind. Surely NTUC who looks into the welfare of workers could explore the construction of such daycare centres in the heartlands as there are many who are struggling with the stresses of life in all parts of Singapore.
There is far too much emphasis on the younger generation and so little support for our seniors that leave us feeling that we are a “forgotten lot”.
The government has assured all Singaporeans that it will listen to feedback, but it is futile to give feedback when these do not translate to concrete action.
Raymond Anthony Fernando