Saturday, July 28, 2012

Peer specialists needed to help caregivers of the mentally ill

I refer to the report, “Living with my daughter’s meltdowns” (The New Paper, July 22).

It is a stark reality that caregivers face a great deal of stress in taking care of their loved ones suffering from mental illness.

I relate very well to Madam Cheng’s emotional pain in trying to manage her 30-year-old daughter’s bipolar condition because I myself have witnessed how mental illness can destroy lives – especially when there is no support whatsoever.

If caregivers in this group do not get the vital support that is urgently needed, more and more caregivers will also fall into depression and find life meaningless.

As an experienced caregiver, I have been helping patients and family members cope with the mental illness, sometimes in person or through Facebook. After my story was told in MediaCorp’s TV show EVERYDAY HEROES, I received more patients and family members seeking my help on how to manage mental illness. And some of them are suicidal.

While I am willing to help, I have constraints as my privacy is sometimes invaded.

In America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides excellent support for both psychiatric patients and their caregivers. NAMI is the nation’s largest non-profit grassroots mental health education, advocacy and support organisation.

NAMI has a Peer Specialist scheme in place in which experience caregivers are paid an allowance to impart their skills and knowledge to caregivers of the mentally ill.

Peer Specialists are mental health consumers who have completed specific training that enables them to enhance a person’s wellness and recovery by providing peer support. Peer Specialists work in a variety of locations, such as peer support centers, crisis stabilization units, respite programs, psychosocial rehabilitation programs, and in psychiatric hospitals. Peer support can be a one-on-one experience or a group of people sharing together.

Singapore should introduce this scheme as part of its mental health service programmes. As mental health providers lack funds, the Ministry of Health (MOH) can providing the funding for the proposed Peer Specialist scheme which currently does not exist.

Most certainly the MOH and its partners needs to play a bigger supporting role in helping to alleviate the emotional, physical and financial pain which caregivers in this group have to endure almost every day in their isolated and lonely lives.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

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