From the desk of Raymond Anthony Fernando
Ms Zuraidah Ibrahim
Sunday Times Deputy Editor
Ms Rachel Chang
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?
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:
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:
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.
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