Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CEL's master plan-2012-2016 : Is there a support plan for the mentally ill & their caregivers?

On September 20, 2011, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) announced a new Enabling Masterplan for 2012-2016, which will serve as the national roadmap for the development of programmes and services for persons with disabilities over that period. This Masterplan will endeavour to identify the needs of persons with disabilities at every phase of life, and see where there are gaps in the current landscape.

The Centre for Enabling Living (CEL, website at www.cel.sg) was conceived by MCYS as part of the national care network to coordinate care for persons needing care, and is the secretariat for the Enabling Masterplan.

I read the information on CEL’s website, but was disappointed to discover that other than the Mental Capacity Act, there appears to be no provision whatsoever for proper structural support for persons suffering from mental illness and their caregivers.

Mental illness, like a physical illness, can be disabling. Person with mental illness are just as entitled to support as persons with a serious physical illness. This is what is required for an inclusive society.

When I wrote to CEL two weeks ago, it seemed that no one there wanted to give me an answer. I also raised this issue with the Acting-Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports. As expected, no answer was given.

I then called up CEL’s operations manager, and he told me that my request has to be cleared with the bosses “up there”.

In his first speech in the new Parliament, the Prime Minister assured all Singaporeans that no one will be left behind. The Government has also pledged to be more open and to engage Singaporeans. Yet it is so difficult to get answers and support for the mentally and their caregivers. Why?

It is little wonder then that Singaporeans are airing their hardships, frustrations and problems on the internet, because they feel their voices are not being heard. Under the PS21 Programme (Public Service 21), government agencies are supposed to reply to within 3-5 working days. I don’t see this happening.

The Government has to understand that people who are seriously ill are frustrated and distressed, and feel hopeless. This unhappiness often spills over to their caregivers as well.

I would therefore like to know if there are plans to provide a good structural support system for caregivers of the mentally ill and their afflicted loved ones, in the Enabling Masterplan for 2012-2016.

A secondary question: will psychiatric patients and their caregivers be represented on the three sub-commitees under the Enabling Masterplan? And if so, who would represent us?

Hearing from people who have walked this road and embarked on this journey will enable the Government to fully understand the struggles and growing needs faced by the mentally ill and their families, in their lonely and isolated lives. It seems that persons with physical disabilities are represented on the Enabling Masterplan sub-committees, but I have not heard of anyone representing psychiatric patients and their caregivers.

Singapore can only become an inclusive society if it looks after ALL sectors of the population.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

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