Friday, April 27, 2012

Adopt the can -do spirit in supporting those living with mental illness

I refer to the report in The New Paper, “Bedok’s corridor of filth” published on 9th April 2012.

I can fully understand the frustrations that caregiver Mr Loi is going through.  Mr Loi is the sole caregiver to his brother who suffers from mental illness. The mentally ill brother often soils the corridor and urinates in bottles and then pours it outside their Bedok flat, leaving Mr Loi to clean up every now and then.

For many families coping with loved ones stricken with mental illness, the journey can be extremely daunting.  Along with suffering often comes frustration and resignation. Caregivers of the mentally ill are often closed up in isolation that marginalises and wounds – as with the case of Mr Loi and all those in his predicament.

Many will give up when they can no longer cope due to the lack of support.   The elderly lady whose two relatives left her for two years and who was arrested for  hurling her personal belongings out of her flat in Hougang Avenue 5 is a case in point (The New Paper, April 13). She was arrested by Police and smiled as she was led away by our boys in blue. The mentally ill elderly citizen also attempted to commit suicide.

We may think we are helping the mentally ill by allowing them their independence, but we are in fact doing them a great disservice by not giving them the care and help they so desperately need.

Generally, there is a lack of education among Asians on mental illness and most of them will not admit that they are afflicted with the illness.  This unwillingness to be associated with mental illness is perhaps, understandable given that there is so much social stigma within the community towards mental illness. This is why public education must be on-going and be kept sustainable.

Mental illness is becoming a national issue and that is why it should be “everybody’s business” to give this vulnerable group - also citizens of this land, the support that they so badly need.

Government agencies for their part must be willing to go the extra mile in making life easier for those who are unable to take care of themselves. There needs to be a reward system in place to motivate civil servants to work toward this goal, which I fervently believe is achievable.

At the end of the day, attitudes towards the mentally and their families will make a big difference in helping them to re-integrate in society. Those who can do, should do.

Recently, our Prime Minister has called on all Singaporeans to render assistance to our elderly citizens as every one of us will one day get old. I support what he says.

We should bring back the Police posts (NPP) in the neighbourhoods and extend its services and work stations to include nurse stations so that the response system is speeded up, thereby providing the much-needed support for vulnerable groups- and there are many out there.  In cases of a fire break out, lives and families can be saved, and so can property.

I know of a lady in SUNLOVE Home who writes pretty good poetry.  To-date she has written 20 poems. I have encouraged her to write another 30 more poems and then, it can be compiled into a book along with some black and white sketches that mirror the expressions in each poem. The next step would be to source for funding or sponsorship to pay for the publishing of the proposed book, which could be titled- POETIC TAPESTRY.  Once the books are marketed well, and royalties are given to the author, it will uplift and motivate not only the author, but all those in her condition as well.  Indeed the success of POETIC TAPESTRY can be used as a spring board for recovering psychiatric patients to pen their own poems and stories and allow them to earn some pocket money. This is a good way to get the mentally ill to re-integrate back into society. MOH & MCYS should heed this call.

If we want to make Singapore the best home to live in, we cannot adopt a “business as usual” attitude.  Rather, we should think of new and innovative ways that can help build a cohesive society.  An inclusive society that must surely include those who are marginalized.  

If the mentally ill and their caregivers are left to fend for themselves, are we really, one people, one Singapore, one nation?  


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