Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Baffling how no one stepped forward to help suicidal mentally retarded teenager

An open letter to Prime Minister  Lee Hsien Loong,  Minister for Health &  related Govt leaders/agencies

In the Straits Times report “Teen gets 8 weeks’ jail after 13 suicide attempts”, 18-year-old Kathleen Seah Pei Yi was sentenced to 2 months’ jail for repeated suicidal attempts.

I am baffled that despite media reports highlighting the plight of this mentally retarded teen and the difficulties her caregivers are facing, not a single person or organisation offered to help ease their struggles. 

In my discussion with Education Minister Heng Swee Keat during the first National Conversation exercise, I appealed to Mr Heng to help caregivers of the mentally ill.  The minister was sympathetic and assured me that he would look into the welfare of caregivers of psychiatric patients.  But I have yet to see any sustainable support being given to this group.

Does it make sense to place a mentally retarded child who is obviously not in her correct state of mind into prison just because no one wants to assist this family? Is this what an inclusive society is all about?

Our mental health care providers, including the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) must work closely together to help ease the suffering and emotional distress which caregivers of the mentally ill face every day in their lonely and isolated lives.

The Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) manages psychiatric homes in Pelangi village and even in Bukit Gombak where those who have been abandoned by their families or are unable to take care of themselves for whatever reasons, can be given shelter, food and care.  Although Kathleen has not been abandoned by her family, some flexibility should be exercised in cases like this. 

At SAMH’s Pelangi Village, there are volunteers who teach art and pottery to psychiatric patients and with encouragement, support and motivation, I have every confidence that the troubled teen can go on to lead a more fulfilling life. 

Placing the teenager who is mentally retarded in prison will only worsen her condition, as imprisoning a person can do a lot of damage. For isolation makes a person to feel unwanted, uncared and unloved.

So what happens when the teen serves her 8 week jail sentence, then comes out and again tries to harm herself? Put her in jail- again? Can’t the authorities look into long-term solutions, instead of short term ones? And it is not as if I have not raised this matter to the Health Minister when I first read about her plight more than a month ago.

See my open letter to the Health Minister here:

As a society if we cannot feel and show compassion to the vulnerable in our society, then will we ever become a gracious and caring nation? To this end,  I am not at all surprised that Singapore was ranked as the most emotionless society in the world, according to a Bloomberg News report on a Gallup survey.