Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Find ways to bring down suicides

"Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down "
- Socrates -

I refer to the article, “Woman and toddler found dead (Sept 14) in MediaCorp's TODAY newspaper.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that approximately one million people will die from suicide each year.  By the year 2020, depression is projected to reach second place in the ranking of global burden of disease.

While some people will criticize those who commit suicide, we must understand that these people do so because they feel isolated, hopeless and find that the only option to end their suffering is through death.  Suicidal people must be given the opportunity to talking openly about their suicidal thoughts because lives can be saved.  Studies have shown that hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide.

It is never easy to understand what pushes so many individuals to take their own lives.  But if we show that we care and have a good supporting system, it can prevent or at least reduce people from taking their own lives or that of their loved ones.

Last year, 992 people here were arrested for attempting suicide-the highest figure in the last five years. Besides locals, foreigners are also losing the will to live.

To bring down our suicide rates, I suggest the following measures be taken.

Form a task force

Form a high level task force to address and tackle the rising number of people committing suicide or attempting to end their lives. Members could include the police, HDB staff, counsellers, Members of Parliament, psychologists, psychiatrists and even ordinary citizens who have overcome suicide and now leading perfectly normal lives.

Sharing a life experience

Tap the experience of those who have overcome suicides and allow them to share their experience with those who may be suicidal.

Form associations for support

Have associations for foreigners to participate in activities so that they feel welcome and do not feel lonely and isolated. These associations should also have a counsellor whom troubled people can approach for assistance. Make known that there is a crisis hotline to these foreigners – that there is always help out there.

Reach out to the community

While helplines do help, it is far better if we have professionals come down on-site as face-to-face interaction can make a big difference in saving lives. With the on-site system in place, a proper care plan can be put in place to ensure that the suicidal person does not have more depressing thoughts.  And once the suicidal crisis has passed, it is crucial to stay in touch with the person, periodically checking in or dropping by.  To this end, it would be useful if Befrienders or volunteers who are trained in crisis management or have some knowledge of psychology keep in close contact with the suicidal person/s.

 At the end of the day, friends can provide the vital support in the recovery process and we should do all we can to help save and reclaim lives.

Raymond Anthony Fernando 





Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Real issues, effective communication & leadership- The National Conversation - Letter to SPH Journalists

From the desk of Raymond Anthony Fernando
Warren Fernandez

ST Editor

Ms Zuraidah Ibrahim

Sunday Times Deputy Editor

Ms Rachel Chang

ST Journalist

Dear Journalists at SPH,

I have been following the reports that you have written on the National Conversation exercise, and frankly I am somewhat disturbed by what I read.  As journalists,  you need to provide different perspectives, be neutral and not keep putting down Singaporeans all the time. That’s not the way to go. That’s not the way to build a truly cohesive society that can work with the Government of the day to make Singapore the BEST HOME to live in.

Singaporeans who raise issues on the difficulties of getting jobs are reasonable - they are real issues. I would like to ask all of you this:  
Supposing you wake up one morning and discover that you are out of a job, and later find out that your job has been taken away by a foreigner, how would you feel?
How would you feel when you have mouths to feed, having to looking after a family member who is disabled, or ill?  
How would you feel if you end going to the CDC and  be put through rigorous questioning when you are already down on your luck?  
Have all of you gone through that?

More queries:

How would you know what it is like to care for a family member who has a serious mental disorder and you are all alone to carry out this extremely difficult task with absolutely no structural support system in place?

Have any of you been to IMH- especially in the afternoons when the counter there is like a market?

Have any of you been inside the wards of IMH, including the forensic wards and see what goes on behind closed doors?

Last year, 992 people were arrested for attempted suicide. Is this not cause for concern? Is this not an issue to be addressed and discussed openly and rationally?

I have put forwards questions on mental illness and answered the call by PM Lee, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and the media to participate in the NC exercise?  What happened? All these queries have been blocked off? Is this fair journalism? There is a large psychiatric community here in Singapore, and it is growing? 
The Straits Times has done a grave disservice and injustice to the mentally ill and their caregivers by deliberately choosing to ignore our cries for help. But I will be relentless in bringing hope to the mentally ill and their caregivers, with OR without your support.

Through my reasoning with Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, there has been a break through. He has invited me to sit in at one of his dialogue sessions to touch on mental illness- to share my wealth of experience in how I have cared for my wife for 37 years; counting.  Yes, my wife has schizophrenia and advanced arthritis, but I’m still damn proud of her.

Read his email to me from Education Minister Heng Swee Keat:

Dear Raymond

Thanks for this note. I am sorry I missed your email earlier.   I thank you for sharing your perspective and experience, as well as the efforts you are making to help your wife and others. I am glad to learn of the support from the church.   I am asking my colleagues to look into the issues you raised.

Meantime, may I invite you to join one of our dialogue sessions for you to share this with others?


Heng Swee Keat

Then from the Secretariat of NC:

“Dear Raymond,

Thank you for writing to Minister Heng and we at the Our Singapore Secretariat also extend our thanks for the good work that you are doing to aid your friends and family. We have received this correspondence from The Minister and note that he has invited you to the dialogue sessions to share from your wealth of experience.

We are in the process of organising the platforms to engage Singaporeans, and will contact you again via email in a few weeks’ time to join in one of the sessions.

Thank you once again for the good work you do. Please continue to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly because the future of Singapore's proactive community service is in hands like yours. We hope you also consider encouraging your friends to take part in this national conversation on Singapore’s future.

Warm regards,

Tim @ Our Singapore Secretariat”

I’ve written to PM Lee and his team on the NC TV show and my sentiments are best expressed here on my blog:

Report to PM Lee and his team:

As one priest puts it so well, “ Unless it (mental illness) hits you or your family, you don’t know, and many a time you just don’t care!”

In closing, those who have not experience the hardships citizens like us face: See this:

I hope you will mull over what I’ve said and show me that indeed even the press can have a Singapore Heart.

Thank you, for your time.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

Advocate for the mentally ill and their caregivers





Monday, September 17, 2012


Raymond’s letter on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Monday 17th September 2012 on page 20.  

The report shows how people who are emotionally or psychologically disturbed can be at risk of abuse.

In the U.K, the Government has introduced a “No Secrets” guidance to protect the vulnerable from abuse.  Under this programme, local authorities including health and social care professionals work with the police and criminal justice agencies to reduce the risk of abuse and step in promptly when abuses occur. 

Singapore should introduce a similar programme to safeguard the interests of those who are vulnerable.  It can be a troubled student, as in this case, or an elderly resident who may be abused in a nursing home.

First, under this “No Secrets” guidance programme, service users should be encouraged to identify what they would like to see happen, if at any point while making use of a service, they are at risks of being abused.

Second, service users should not be isolated and at higher risk of abuse. 

Third, social care professionals must act upon abuse and report it as a crime and not simply write it off as an internal incident.

Advocacy plays an important role in protecting the vulnerable from abuse. Family members or the victims of abuse themselves should be able to report any incident and be assured that it will be handled professionally.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

National conversation, unity and leadership - An open letter to PM Lee & his team

An open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong  & his team

Dear Prime Minister Lee,

I am providing you with some frank and constructive feedback on the National Conversation programme which you have implemented, and I trust that you, PM Lee and your team will view it positively and in the right context so as to make this whole project successful and rally all those living here- Singapore and foreigners alike to help your Government to make Singapore the best home to live, work and play in. A Singapore with a heart, a Singapore with a soul and a Singapore that truly cares.

National conversation or “selected” conversation?

I caught the TV show on CNA last  night on the National Conversation programme which you are spearheading, but like many Singaporeans was very disappointed.  It was clear that the programme was “scripted” and only a selected few were chosen to ask questions.  Only the educated elite were handpicked to participate in the TV show. There was not a single local senior citizen that was invited. Instead a foreigner singing praises of the Government was allowed to air his views.  

During your National Day Rally speech, PM Lee, you took the opportunity to criticize some Singaporeans, but praised foreigners; putting them on a pedestal. Last night, again Singaporeans were chided both by you and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who has also now jumped on the bandwagon. 

As it is, Singaporeans are already upset that foreigners are taking our jobs, so by putting down Singaporeans; does it help in any way to integrate the locals with foreigners? The national conversation exercise should not be a platform to put down Singaporeans, but must be used to discuss matters, even sensitive ones that affect all our lives.

What makes for a good Political Leader?

Ironically, those who make good political leaders are often those who least want the position in the first place! These are individuals who do not seek power but who have authority conferred upon them by others who value their judgment.

So what makes a good political leader? A good political leader is:

  • Someone who serves as an example of integrity and loyalty to the people they represent, both to the public and to other political leaders.
  • Someone with good communication and inter-personal skills, who can work with a range of other people, regardless of political party or opinion, to achieve the greatest good for the general population.
  • Someone who can resist the various temptations and lures of the political arena.
  • Someone of strong character, with both conscience and charisma
  • Someone willing to listen to the needs of the common people and to represent them faithfully.
  • Someone with the courage to stand up and say what needs to be said – rather than just tell the general public what it wants to hear.
  • Someone who is willing to make difficult (and possibly unpopular) decisions for the greater good.
  • Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subjects no matter how thorny the issues are.Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subject no matter how thorny the issues are.

Stress eating into our lives

Work stress

In a survey conducted by online job portal Jobscentral, it was found that two-thirds of Singapore workers said their workload has increased when compared with six months ago.

Ms Michelle Lim, chief operating officer of JobsCentral Group, said: "Singapore's workplace environment is a tough and demanding one. Workers place career as one of the top priorities in their lives and often make personal sacrifices for job advancements. "On the other hand, employers faced with increasing manpower cost embark on the unending quest for higher productivity. It is not surprising that our workers are feeling more stressed and working longer hours."

In another section of the survey, it showed that almost one in four Singapore workers said that they feel bullied at work. Seventy-four per cent of the respondents who said they were bullied indicated that colleagues are the biggest bully.

So it’s very clear that work stress that will lead to our workers falling into depression is a real issue, and needs to be tackled - quickly.

Mental illness, suicides on the rise

Act before it is too late

The number of Singaporeans and foreigners developing mental illness is increasing. 

I have written to you and the team several times, as well as through the media to address and tackle mental health issues, but all refuse to talk about these subjects. My comments about these matters was unfairly removed at the CNA website last night when Lawrence Wong participated.

It very clear to me that your Government does not want to discuss these thorny issues even though it is becoming a nagging problem here. And ST Editor Warren Fernandez confirms beyond a shadow of doubt that indeed you and your team will not answer questions on such topics. See Warren’s reply to me:

“Apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Yes, the team has indeed been inundated with questions. I have checked with my colleagues and understand that the plan is not for all these questions to be posted or reported on. Instead, questions will be sent to the PM and we will put some of these to him to respond to on video. We will report on the responses. Hope this clarifies.

Best regards,

Warren Fernandez

The Straits Times”

How can you then say, PM Lee that no one will be left behind?  Looking at the composition of the 26-member national conversation committee, I do not see a single person who will represent persons with mental illnesses. Are we then a truly inclusive society? Is this committee truly representative of ALL Singaporeans?

Last year, 992 people were arrested for attempted suicide. Mental illness is creeping into our homes, into the community, into our schools, into offices and even into churches.  These are the realities- realities which your Government must surely address and not “sweep under the carpet”.

Foreigners are dying so tragically and taking their innocent children along with them. On Thursday 13th September 2012, a 33-year-old woman from China and her 6-month-old daughter fell to their deaths from a 25th storey flat in Sengkang.  And there have been other foreigners who have come here and committed suicide. Are all this tragedies good for Singapore’s reputation, PM Lee?

In fact, one of the best ways to de-stigmatize mental illness is to talk about it openly. And if the Govt. is willing to address these issues rationally and come up with solutions that can help the mentally ill and their caregivers lead normal lives, then the perception of society towards people with mental illness will change for the better because the Govt. "leads by example". But if mental health issues are avoided, then all efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness will fail.  

And by not wanting to touch on mental illness, the Govt. will be doing a great injustice to the mentally ill and their caregivers who are also citizens of this land- and there are many in this group.

Good public relations vital for a cohesive society

I have answered the call by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and his team to participate in this National Conversation programme, but I am treated like a “nobody.”

In the end I had to end up writing to the press to explain why effective communication is vital in building a good image of the Government. Take a look at the said letter:

I am not hopeful that the Government will respond positively to this, but I must try.

At the end of the day, effective communication helps to build trust and consensus – key points which I documented in this letter to the press.

When I wrote another letter to the press on how we can build good neighbourliness, answering the call by Law Minister Shanmugam who will work out the legal framework on anti-social behaviour, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan replied to me almost immediately. I was impressed with his good PR skills. Dr Vivian did not view my letter to the press as a complaint, but rather as useful feedback to improve the lives of all our citizens.  I commend him as a good Cabinet Minister who sees the importance of communicating effectively.

Do read the said letter:

Prime Minister Lee, although you have assured all Singaporeans that through the national conversation programme, you would "leave no stone unturned" and that “no one will be left behind”, I don’t see this happening.  You are indeed leaving many behind.

I have been in PR for more than 10 years, handled all kinds of people, including VVIPS that included former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and politicians like the late JBJ Jeyaratnam.

I have handled customers who are extremely difficult, and in the process I have seen “the good, the bad and the ugly”. But I learnt so much – so much that it helps me to better manage my wife’s schizophrenia illness for 37 years; counting. And I want to share these experiences so that we can help our people living here stay resilient during any crisis.

Will you, PM Lee give me that opportunity so that we can save and reclaim EVERY life?

On Friday as I was bringing my wife home in a taxi after her medical appointment at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, a young Chinese taxi driver, and he was pretty well educated, told us that in the army, soldiers are told by their commanders to obey and not question. And that when the Government brings in such commanders, the same principle applies- “You obey and don’t question.” You can’t do that in today’s society where technology is so advanced.

I agree with you, PM Lee that continuous learning in a globalised world is so necessary.  So, even you as a Prime Minister and your young inexperienced ministers can learn some good PR skills  and on mental health issues from a “nobody” like me who has “tasted salt.”  If the national conversation programme can be well executed with no one left out, the PAP will be able to secure a better standing in the next GE. If it does not, it will lose more votes, and that’s my very frank view.

Thank you, and I hope to see the winds of change. Have a nice day, one and all!


Raymond Anthony Fernando Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subjects no matter how thorny the issues are.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Letter to the press: Govt agencies can be good neighbours, too

My letter to MediaCorp's TODAY newspaper is published today, Friday 14th September 2012.

The proposal of a legal framework to deal with disputes between neighbours is timely.

Where there are shared amenities, such as common corridors, enforcement should be taken against those who insist on cluttering them with potted plants, furniture and other bulky items, which pose a danger during emergencies such as a fire.

There is also a need to ensure that noise pollution is kept under control, which can adversely affect our health.

Good neighbourliness is everybody's business. Government agencies, too, must do their part to ensure that we live in a conducive environment.

Where renovation work is being done in an estate, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) should inform residents so that those affected can find alternative accommodation or plan their schedule accordingly.

I live in Ang Mo Kio, where hacking often takes place simultaneously in my block and the one opposite. I have suggested to the HDB that a notice be placed at the lift landings of the affected blocks, but no action has been taken.

Elderly residents need rest, and children have to study. Moreover, there are childcare centres in many HDB blocks. We should not subject children to excessive, unhealthy noise.

At Block 584, where a childcare centre is housed, lift upgrading is scheduled to commence this month. Flats are also going to be built at the car park now in front of the centre. It would not be fair to subject the children to extended noise pollution.

There must be some arrangements to temporarily relocate the centre to a nearby site. Let us not risk the children and staff having health issues in future, especially when medical costs are far from cheap.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Replies I received.
(1) Dear Mr Fernando,

Thank you for your email. NEA will review the situation with the other relevant agencies and take the necessary action.
Best wishes,
Dr Vivian Balakrishan
Envoirment Minister

(2) Dear Raymond

Thanks for speaking up against noise pollution – and this time even for our childcare branch at Ang Mo Kio block 584.  

Kudos for your public consciousness.  Hope you and Doris are okay – haven’t seen you in a while (except in print)!

God bless

Ms Phyllis Tan



Monday, September 10, 2012

Letter to the press: The Government’s National Conversation Programme

MPs should also respond to questions on Facebook

My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today, Monday 10th September 2012, page 17.

In an effort to reach out to all sectors of the population, the Prime Minister has initiated the National Conversation programme. 

It is encouraging that hundreds of our citizens have answered the call by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat to participate in this exercise.  This is a good sign that Singaporeans are showing a keen interest in building a better future for our country.

But although there are assurances that at least 30 dialogue sessions are being planned, the Government needs to respond to queries online where citizens are waiting for answers.

Questions that have been posted on the Facebook pages of our ministers and Members of Parliament sometimes go unanswered.  This defeats the whole purpose of the national conversation programme.

I have responded to the Education Minister’s call for feedback both on Facebook and directly to the ministers on some social issues which are close to my heart, but no one has responded. 

I have not received even an acknowledgment or an interim reply.  Yet with technology, this can be done in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

I agree with Mr Heng that nobody should feel intimidated about participating in the national conversation.

But the Government should also not cherry- pick what issues it wants to address and tackle, and what it does not.  No one should feel that they are being left out.

Poor communication or the lack of it can lead to a great deal of misunderstandings and unhappiness.   Responding to queries or feedback is not only gracious, but it helps to improve the communication process.

Effective communication can help to build trust and consensus. In order to have creative effective dialogues, all parties must be able to express themselves clearly and listen for understanding. 

Together, let us have a good two-way communication system that cuts across every sector of the population in order to make the Singapore National Conversation a resounding success.  Otherwise, as many already believe, this project will be seen as just another public relations exercise by the ruling party.



P.S: (1) I had written to the Education Minister about the 26 members committee : This was my query, but have yet  to receive a reply.
"Dear Mr Heng,
I’ve noticed that there are a large number of people in your National Conversation committee from all walks of life that includes the President of the society for the Physically Disabled, and even a taxi driver. But I have not read of any one representing people with psychiatric conditions & their caregivers. I’d like to know why this is so, given that there are hundreds who are in this group. Is anyone looking into the welfare/interests of the mentally ill & their family members? Can you kindly enlighten me, Mr Heng. Thank you.
Raymond Anthony Fernando"

(2) NMP Eugene Tan in his recent commentary & analysis to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper  said, & I quote,” Looking at the committee's composition, the accent on youth is also evident. Most members were born post-1965 and the oldest (actress Lim Ru Ping) is a relatively youthful 61 years of age. But the dialogue about our future has to include the past, present and future. Any vision outlined will be path-dependent on the past and present. Furthermore, there will be far more Singaporeans aged 60 and above in 20 years' time than there are today,” unquote.

I agree with Eugene’s observations. Just look at the committee’s composition. Even though suicide is on the rise (last year there were more than 900 people who were arrested for suicide attempts), hundreds suffering from depression and other types of mental illness, with caregivers struggling to cope in caring for their loved ones, I do not see anyone who is representing this marginalized group in the National Conversation Committee. How can we then say, in the Prime Minister’s own words, “No one will be left behind”.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The National Conversation- The Hard Truths

7th September 2012
Warren Fernandez

Straits Times Editor

Dear Warren,

I read your article last Sunday in which you touched on the National Conversation. You spoke of hard truths and civility. I agree with you, Warren, we need hard truths & tough questions to be answered. We don’t avoid looking into these matters. We need to save and reclaim lives. That’s the Singapore Heart which I would like to see! Education Minister Heng Swee Keat mentioned that he will even listen to voices of the silent.  That remains to be seen.

Do read up on today’s New Paper report (Friday 7th Sept 2012) on the rise in the number of suicide cases.

Like I mentioned in my earlier postings on my blog- mental illness and suicides are on the rise and it is becoming a BIG social problem. You’ll be surprised at the number of people who are struggling with mental illnesses and how their family members are crying out for help. I’ve been helping so many of them on my Facebook, private emails and in person, and I don’t have to blow my trumpet on doing this. Cos’ it’s the only decent thing to do.
Last month, when I was selling my wife's novel at a Catholic Church, a young mother who bought the book revealed to me that her 20-year-old son was treated at IMH for schizophrenia. I spoke to the teenager , he looked very frightened. I encouraged him to take his medications. Next to him was his cute-3-year-old sister. I told the girl to love her brother and care for him. She smiled and said ok, Uncle Raymond. But if the brother's mental illness is not propely managed, I'm pretty sure that the little girl will have psychlogical problems later in her life.
I had submitted some queries on mental health issues to your ST for the National Conversation- questions for the PM to answer. And as expected, ST refused to publish it on the website.  I have not seen my questions posted on your website.

Here’s the questions I posted to PM:

Why is this so, Warren? It is an irony that the ST carries out reports on suicides such as the Bedok Reserviour, hoarding problems, depression and other mental health problems, but chooses not to publish my queries to the Prime Minister on mental health problems which is, by no exaggeration becoming serious in Singapore. We cannot sweep these problems under carpet, Warren, we need to address it and find solutions. It is so wrong to shun these issues. The press must be neutral. That’s being civil, that’s getting to the hard truths.

So let us be sincere in this whole National Conversation exercise, otherwise, as many Singaporeans already believe, it’s another PR exercise by the PAP.

Thank you and I’d like to hear from you, Warren.  Incidentally, one of the ways to be civil is to communicate, and communicate effectively.


Raymond Anthony Fernando



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Welfare for caregivers of the mentally ill: Where’s the Singapore Heart?-An apeal to Dr Tony Tan, President of the Republic of Singapore

5th September 2012

Your Excellency, President Tony Tan,

The key messages relayed at the recent National Day Rally saw our leaders calling on Singaporeans to have a big heart and be gracious as the way forward to build a better Singapore.

The buzzword these days is “Inclusive”.  But how inclusive are we when it comes to the welfare and well-being of our caregivers? The Prime Minister has promised that his Government will build a better Singapore where everyone can call Singapore, home.  PM Lee also gave the assurance that no one will be left behind.  No one will be left behind?   I am not convinced and I’ll go to explain why I draw that conclusion.

Many caregivers of the mentally ill have been neglected and their welfare not looked into – for decades.

A good mental health care system must surely look into support for caregivers and this is clearly lacking in our mental health care system.

In a recent report in The New Paper, a mentally retarded girl who also has a personality disorder was given a second chance by the District Judge Shaifuddin Saruwan.  He did not choose to jail her, although he could have. The judge showed compassion and that’s the Singapore Spirit which I like to see. (See my proposed letter to The New Paper). The girl, “Mandy” tried to commit suicide 10 times.

I have full admiration for the girl’s father who is not very well educated, but gives unconditional love to his troubled daughter. It was heart-wrenching to read the TNP report and even more painful to see the photograph in which the young girl rode pillion rider on her doting dad’s motorcycle as they made their way to court. The father pleaded with the judge to help him save his daughter.  I was teary-eyed when the father and daughter were so happy that his daughter was not jailed that he took his daughter out to eat steak immediately after the judge showed compassion.

I am puzzled that people can read about such reports and “turn the other way”.   How would anyone feel if the girl who tried to end her life was their own daughter? Can we not feel the suffering of what the family must be going through? What the other caregivers are also struggling with?  Is this the Singapore Spirit, the Singapore Heart that we want to see, Dr Tony Tan?

The support system for caregivers is long overdue.  I remember vividly when my own wife who has battled schizophrenia for 40 years and suffers relapses; I could not get the support which I desperately needed.  It is the same with hundreds of caregivers. The focus is on the patient and the caregiver is completely forgotten. Is this what you call a good mental health care system? Little wonder that many caregivers themselves also fall into depression and suffer from fatigue and isolation.

Last weekend, I felt really bad about not being able to attend mass at my church. The reason: My head was spinning and I almost fainted.  I go to church because it is my Catholic faith that gives me strength to pull through this arduous journey. This is the price caregivers like us pay when there is absolutely no support for us.  Does anybody care?

Our mental health care system, Dr Tony Tan needs a major overhaul if it is to tackle the many cases of people suffering from mental illness and losing the will to live.

It is no exaggeration to say that our cries for help have fallen on deaf ears. MOH, MCYS, its partners and the mental health providers have done a great disservice to us by neglecting the needs of caregivers of psychiatric patients who do not chose to abandon their stricken loved ones.

I am fully aware that my relentless advocacy efforts to help the mentally ill and their caregivers and be a “voice” for this marginalized community is making some people uneasy, but frankly, it does not bother me one bit. If there are flaws in our system, we need to address it and find solutions. We don’t ignore it!

How many of our Members of Parliament are willing to speak out for the mentally ill and their caregivers. Aren’t they elected to serve the people who must surely include psychiatric patients and their families who are also citizens of this land?  Is mental illness such a taboo subject that it must not be discussed and talked about?

If we cannot learn to feel for the less fortunate in our midst, how can we ever call Singapore an inclusive society?

This is my proposed letter to the press:

Letter to TNP: Respite care and support vital for caregivers to better manage the mentally ill

I was heartbroken when I read the report “Help me save my daughter” (The New Paper, August 31).

I full sympathize with James, the doting father of the teenager daughter, Mandy who attempted suicide 10 times in a year.  Despite being completely stressed out in caring for Mandy who is mentally retarded with a personality disorder, the 58-year old dad continues to show love and kindness to his daughter. Such qualities are rare these days.  But like James, many caregivers in this group are not getting the vital support that they are in dire need of.

Suicides are on the rise.  Just a few days ago, a woman in her 30s threatened to jump off the top of the bell tower in the Church of the Nativity. 

Caregiving, especially for the mentally ill is an extremely demanding job and no one is equipped to do it alone. This is why it is crucial to have a good supporting system in place.  Caregivers also need respite care otherwise they become vulnerable into falling into depression and endangering their own health.  Respite care provides short-term breaks that can relieve stress, restore energy, and promote balance in your life.  But it is really a sad state of affairs that we don’t have all these in place in our mental health programmes.  

On a brighter note, I applaud the compassion shown by District Judge Shaifuddin Saruwan when he sentenced Mandy to one year probation on condition that she continues to seek treatment at IMH.  Indeed, we should treat the mentally ill, not jail them.

Besides a good caregiver supporting system and the much-needed respite care for caregivers, it will be useful if those who attempt suicide are sent for psychiatric rehabilitation as it will help those who suffer from stress, depression, suicidal tendencies and other mental health issues.

In the recent National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted hope, heart and home as the way forward to build a better Singapore.

So let’s have a heart and put in place concrete measures to support the mentally ill and their caregivers so that they can cling onto hope and be proud to call Singapore our home.



I would like to hear from you, President Tony Tan or your ministry officials.


Thank you for your time and for caring.


Raymond Anthony Fernando
P.S: For a true account of what my wife and I have gone through for 37 years, click onto this link to view the local TV show in which we appeared on the 19th July 2012.


Monday, September 3, 2012

SUICIDES ON THE RISE- Let’s do something about this!

“Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
- Martin Luther King Jr-

An 8th decomposed body, believed to be that of a Chinese man in his 30s was found at Bedok Reservoir on Sunday 2nd September 2012. It is really depressing to read of such cases. Let me share some clear insights into how we can resolve these issues, based on my own life experiences, which includes my own attempted suicide in 1995. There are several reasons why people end their lives and it’s mainly because they just don’t know who or where to turn to.  People who lose the will to live could be in debt, have difficulty with failed boy-girl relationships, marital problems, work stress, office politics, finding hard to cope with studies leading to exam stress, unable to secure jobs, struggling to look after a disabled family members etc.  Let us not condemn those who kill themselves or make a joke out of this dreadful situation, but try to find solutions to help these people and their families.  I see humiliation of such suicides on the internet and it's not a nice thing to do.

From my own experience and I counsel a lot of distressed families and patients, many are “lost” when coping with depression or other types of mental illnesses. And we have read about many, some of which includes hoarding problems and bipolar.

One of the best ways to help people cope with the onslaught of stress is to reach out far and wide. Tap the experience of those who have overcome huge adversities in their lives.  Encourage, motivate and inspire those who are struggling to cope.  I go all over Singapore to do this.

I want to reach out to the heartlands through the grassroots leaders, MPs and Mayors, but believe me, it is a daunting task because the hard truth is most people don’t like to discuss mental illness or suicides openly - just sweep the problem under the carpet.

In Australia, when you are suicidal, the professionals come down on site and talk you out of it, get you treated and you are able to cope. I have raised this matter, but no one is receptive to the idea.

The Government wants Singaporeans to change their mindsets, but are they prepared to change themselves? Take for instance the clause on job application forms which makes it a requirement for one to declare if one has a history of mental illness?  Does it mean that if you have depression or other forms of mental illness that you cannot recover and go on to lead perfectly normal lives? So in what way does this declaration help people who are stabilized after psychiatric treatment to find jobs?  I have written to the press on this matter, but no one bothers to reply or change the requirement that can so easily help patients find jobs and not be discrminated against.  Bottom line-We need enlightened employers.

MOS Madam Halimah Yacob in her maiden National Day Rally speech 2012 called on all everyone to give people second chances.  Yet, are people with mental illness given second chances because of this outdated clause on the job application forms   This requirement was handed down from the colonial times, but with changing patterns, the Government also has to adapt to change.   All that is needed is for a certified psychiatrist to give a letter confirming that the patient is responding well to treatment and able to work. 

Thank you.


Raymond Anthony Fernando