Thursday, May 10, 2012

Helping the lonely and depressed seniors to lead more meaningful lives:

Thursday 10th May 2012

Helping the lonely and depressed seniors to lead more meaningful lives: 
An open proposal to PM Lee, DPM Tharman & Ministers & the Archbishop of Singapore  

In the Sunday Times report- “Lonely and depressed elderly cause for worry” (ST May 6, 2012), the National University Health System which carried out a study on the elderly revealed that although many elderly folks are living longer, the older ones – those in their 80s are feeling lonely and depressed.

It gives causes for concern as Singapore’s elderly population is set to grow rapidly.

Many of these elderly citizens feel worthless as, regrettably when they are old and grey, our seniors are dumped aside like used furniture - forgotten.  My wife, Doris Lau and I are in this predicament. Getting support for my wife is a relentless pursuit to source for help.  It’s tiring! It’s wearing me thin!

Fortunately, I’m educated and have the courage and conviction to speak out. This morning as I was helping Doris to change her clothes, she cried and told me that she does not know what will happen to her if I should pass on before her. My Catholic faith tells me to trust in God, my conscience tells me that she will be left to die all alone in our flat because this is the real world. A society in which the mentally ill are the most neglected and shunned in our materialistic world.

The Government, the community and the church has a moral obligation to help our seniors in their twilight years.

One person, a writer overseas, wrote: “I will never forget the time that I walked into a hospital and heard the unhappy cry of an old man, "Nurse, I'm lonely." Over and over again he expressed his need in heart-rending sobs that touched my soul in an unforgettable way. I asked the nurse on duty, "What's wrong with the old man?" She replied, "He has outlived all his relatives and no one comes to see him anymore; and I can't spend all day holding his hand."

We can’t afford to let this happen in Singapore; although it is already happening.  Especially so when our leaders keep saying that they want to build an inclusive society. I’ve heard DPM Tharman say this, and I’ve heard PM Lee say this – repeatedly.

There are many ways we can help to uplift the broken spirit and I hope that the Singapore Government and its partners will do its part to help our silver-haired population, many of whom have been very much a part of Singapore economic success.  

Keep busy and involve yourself

The Buddhist Tzi Chi Foundation which has her headquarters in Taiwan has thousands of volunteers all over the world. They undertake excellent community work. Their doctors give free medical treatment to the sick all over the world. These doctors do so because they are driven by compassion, not by making money.  And they plunge into doing charity work because the Tzi Chi Master inculcates a sense of caring for the community.  

When the Philippines experienced heavy downpours and landslides, Tzi Chi Foundation stepped in almost immediately and helped rebuild their homes. They worked closely with the citizens and because of their commitment; many Filipinos are Tzi Chi volunteers; even until this very day. Tzi Chi was instrumental in developing the community spirit in the Philippines. They have also helped out in rescue missions in Indonesia and in Africa, feeding the poor and lifting the human spirit with just one goal in mind- love and compassion for another human being.

Tz Chi Foundation also reaches out to the mentally ill here in Singapore. Its volunteers visit IMH once a month, bring food to the patients and spend time talking to these “forgotten citizens”.

I urge the NEA & the Singapore Government to help our lonely and depressed citizens by:

(a) Setting up recycling centres island-wide with the help of Tzi Chi Foundation and our grassroots leaders, youths and students so that our lonely elderly citizens can be encouraged to work at these centres and help out with recycling efforts.

(i) At these proposed centres, they are encouraged to sort the discarded items into different categories such as clothing; newspapers; carton boxes/colour paper; black and white paper; electrical appliances; plastics; metal, and glass. By sorting the items themselves, the elderly folks and our youths/students will appreciate more about the need to recycle and also to keep their recyclables clean.

(ii) Pay the elderly folks involved an allowance and then give them a decent meal. Once a month have a social outing for them where singing and games can be organized with some sponsored prizes and door gifts as a crowd puller.

(b) Next up, the church has to do more. CLARITY should get involved.

What and who is CLARITY?

Clarity Singapore Limited is a charity organization endorsed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, a member organisation of Caritas Singapore (CSCC) and National Council of Social Service (NCSS) that seeks to respond to the mental health needs in Singapore through community-based mental health care services and social programmes. Known by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) as a new and rising service provider of community-based mental health, Clarity works in collaboration with AIC's efforts to establish an integrated Community Mental Health Support Network in Singapore.  

Everyone experiences seasons of isolation for one reason or another. Usually we overcome loneliness by meeting new friends, entering new social circles, or taking some other action that reengages us with people.

Currently, CLARITY is only providing counselling services and organises talks once in a “blue moon.”  This is not good enough, given the rising number of people developing mental illness and for reasons outlined above.

Recreation needs are so important to those who experience isolation.  I suggest that CLARITY, working with Residents Committees and grassroots leaders, organize social outings for their clients, including the elderly lonely.

We should not just have organisations for name’s sake. Helping our marginalised citizens’ lead meaningful lives is the responsibility of every citizen, every organization of this land. More so, when the Prime Minister wants to make Singapore the best home to live in.  Thank you.

This proposal goes up on my blog.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

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