Monday, December 16, 2013

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press: Government should subsidise installation of CCTV cameras in homes of elderly

My letter on the above matter is published in MediaCorp’s Today newspaper today, Monday 16th December 2013.

Our doctors are seeing more elderly citizens who suffered a fall in their homes, which has contributed in some ways to the crunch in hospitals and rehabilitation centres.

Elderly folk with mobility problems and who are alone when their children go to work are at greater risk of falls. Although many people consider their homes safe, most accidents occur at home.

Generally, most of our senior citizens would prefer to be with their family than to spend their twilight years in nursing homes. There has thus been discussion on how to support them.

As several public housing blocks are being fitted with closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras near the lifts to improve security for residents, I suggest that the Government also subsidise the installation of CCTV cameras in homes of elderly citizens if the families concerned are agreeable to this enhanced safety measure.

A sensor could be placed near the CCTV cameras, and the video and audio feed could be transmitted to the family members’ mobile phones or other gadgets.

If the elderly relative falls, an SOS signal or alert message could be immediately sent to them.

A home monitoring system will thus allow us to use technology to help us help ourselves.

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Raymond's letter to The New Paper: MOTHER ARRESTED FOR MURDER- Jobless need more support

My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today – Wednesday 4th December 2013, page 13.

Like many others, I was heartbroken when I read   “Sea of sorrow” (The New Paper, Nov 27).

The mother of the 17-month-old has been arrested and faces a murder charge.  Her father said she lost her job recently. Now, one life has been lost and another hangs in the balance. 

Workers who have lost their jobs and those anxious over being laid off need help to cope as financial woes can push them into a dark corner.

Losing a job can push a person into denial, frustration and hopelessness.

During such periods, anxiety will cause the stress levels to shoot up, sometimes with tragic consequences.

There are agencies that can assist families trying to cope with such stress, but the authorities should do more to increase public awareness of the help that is available.

I would like to suggest the following measures to support laid-off workers.

When workers lose their jobs, employers must be required to notify the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The information can then be passed on to the relevant family services centres and others to provide support measures.

The Member of Parliament concerned should also be kept informed so that financial assistance can be stepped up and home visits carried out.

This is important because some of the newly unemployed will be so despondent that they may not want to seek help.

Brochures with information on helplines and family service centres should also be more readily available for this group.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Raymond A Fernando's letter to The Straits Times: Medisave boost for NSmen: Don't forget pioneers

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter was published today, Tuesday 3rd December 2013.

Operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) now stand to receive either $9,000 or $10,500 for their contributions to the nation (“Medisave boost for NSmen?”; last Thursday). This would be a big morale booster for our NSmen and will motivate them to give their best for the country.

Our pioneer NSmen, many of whom are now in their 60s, have also made significant contributions to Singapore.  But why does it seem like they have been forgotten?

When NS was first introduced, NSmen did not have the luxury of catered meals and other benefits that the younger generation of NSmen enjoy.

Yet our pioneer NSmen, many of whom could be struggling with health-care issues, are not being considered for any Medisave payments.

Is it logical to raise the morale of the younger generation and demoralise our elderly folk?

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to The Straits Times: Start 'stigma busters' scheme to help the mentally ill

My letter on the above matter was published in The Straits Times on Wednesday 26th November 2013.

I appreciate the supportive role student Risa Tan Xuan Ying has played in lending a hand to patients with mental illnesses (“Fight bias against the mentally ill”; last Wednesday).

Many in society are still unable to accept people struggling with such conditions.

Patients and caregivers are the best people to educate the public on mental illness because they are “walking the journey”.

Policymakers who understand the difficulties psychiatric patients and their caregivers face can play an important supporting role.  We also need enlightened employers who are willing to give recovering patients a chance to turn their lives around.

Advocates can also help to combat stigma.  In the United States, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has come up with lots of programmes to help the mentally ill and their families reintegrate into society.

To combat stigma, it has a StigmaBusters network of advocates around the world whose role is to fight and correct inaccurate portrayals of mental illness.  They are committed to educating society on the reality of mental illness, in breaking down the barriers of ignorance.

The Ministry of Health, with the support of the Institute of Mental Health and its partners, should start such a scheme.  Our stigma busters can include those in the mental health-care industry, patients and caregivers, and anyone who feels passionately about mental illness.  They can make a big difference to the lives of those who have been ostracised by society.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s two letters to the press on improvements to healthcare & a safer environment

Two of my letters appear in the press today–one to MediaCorp’s TODAY Newspaper on how we can help maids and familes live in a safer environment; and the other on how we can improve or mental health care system. These are efforts to improve systems here and need to be taken in the right context.

Letter 1 - To prevent tragedy, provide better support for maids

The report, “Maid detained after teenager found dead in flat” (Nov 15), may signal a worrying trend, given that there have been several cases of maids implicated in harming their employers’ families.
We must do all we can to help maids, who leave their families behind to earn a living. If not, we would eventually be unable to bring them to our shores.
Also, members of a family who lose a loved one cruelly can fall into depression. It is not easy to cope with grief.

Many of our maids come from developing countries. They may be unable to adjust so quickly to our lifestyle and the demands of looking after our children, which many Singaporeans and foreigners depend on maids to do, as they work long, draining hours.

As a precautionary measure and to make our homes a safer place, maid agency staff should make periodic visits to see how the maid is coping. The staff must also be trained in basic mental healthcare, so that they are able to pick up warning signs that maids may display.

Maid agencies should also be given the telephone numbers of helplines, so domestic workers could secure help as and when needed.

Employers who are worried that their maids are distressed could be given the option to send them for counselling. This is to pre-empt any tragedy from taking place and help both maid and employer live in a safer environment. It should be taken in the right context.

Ultimately, let us strive to make Singapore the best home to live, work and play, not only for ourselves, but also those who give us the support we need.
Raymond Anthony Fernando

Often it is not that our citizens do not want to take care of their health, it is sometimes beyond their control, so we need to be sensitive to those with special needs. I have suggested in my letter to the press – given below, for collaborations between doctors. MOH could undertake this as a Quality Control Circle (QCC) or WIT (Working Improvement Team) project. Ultimately, if this proves successful, there can be improvements in the bed crunch, reduction of patient loads at clinics/hospitals, and the turnover rate for doctors and nurses will be reduced.  There can also be a reduction in costs ­–both on the part of Government spending on health care; and for the consumer.  Although it will take effort and resources to undertake these collaborations, I believe it’s a good investment and it should be taken positively.   We must look 5, 10 years down the road – more so with a rapid ageing population coming on-stream.

Recently, I’ve been having severe pain in my left arm – something like electric current running to this arm, and the doctor advised me to get it checked as I could be having nerve problems.

My wife is seeing a total of 7 doctors; has an average of 8 medical appointments in a month and takes 54.5 tablets a day, and I’m suffering from severe exhaustion.
As caregivers, we do our utmost to support our loved ones, but often we have to pay a heavy price. And it’s not that I have not been pleading for caregiver support. A good mental health care system must look into the welfare of caregivers who make huge sacrifices to support their charges. Do we have that here?

I’m also helping my twin brother who has a wife and a 3-year-old son. All have mental illness, and I’ve made this known to Dr Vivian Balakrishan. 

We need politicians –– ministers, MPs who feel for our marginalized citizens and show empathy.

I will never understand why it is so daunting to secure caregiver support. Yesterday, a teacher and her husband wrote to the Straits Times saying how they have bee struggling to take care of their two  autistic sons, and mentioned that her husband now has 4th stage cancer.

Thank you.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

(2) Letter to The Straits Times:  Help those who cannot help being sick

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published in the Straits Times, today, Tuesday 19th November 2013.

Although some chronic illnesses can be prevented with a healthy diet and exercise, there will always be people who cannot prevent illnesses from disrupting their lives.

Studies have revealed that the prevalence of diabetes and its risk factors is much higher among patients with serious mental illnesses.

Schizophrenia and some other mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder and depression, arise when there are chemical imbalances in the brain.

Research also reveals that the cause of some mental disorders like schizophrenia is genetic.  If the condition does not affect one generation, it may hit the next. This is the case with my wife, whose parents did not have schizophrenia but her grandmother did.

It is also a known fact that all medication have side effects.

During my wife’s visits to the polyclinic and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the doctors discovered that her sodium level was low, leaving her at risk of getting fits.  According to the doctors, this was caused by some of the psychiatric drugs she has to take every day.

Yet, my wife has no choice but to consume her medication.

The solution is for the Ministry of Health to intensify research and get specialists, general practitioners and psychiatrists to collaborate better, so that those with illnesses they have no control over will not have to see more doctors than necessary.

If this proves successful, it would help ease the current bed crunch and patient load at clinics and hospitals.

We must remember that no one chooses to stay unhealthy.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

This is also an interesting letter from another ST reader –Ms Li Dan Yue, who responded to my earlier letter to the press where I asked for grants to be given to patients and caregivers to tell their stories. It’s some consolation that my message is getting across to some kind souls who feel for us.  This is what makes for an inclusive society.

New perspective of the mentally ill
This letter on the above matter was published in The Straits Times on Tuesday 19th November 2013.
I read with interest Mr Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter ("Help the mentally ill tell their stories"; Forum Online, last Tuesday).
In 2009, I worked for a year as an advice and welfare services volunteer in London, helping people to fill in welfare benefits forms.
Among my clients were those with bipolar disorder. Whenever I had to work with them, the staff would tell me to sit close to their cubicles so I could run and call for help if necessary. Hence, I thought these people were dangerous. How wrong I was.
I once met a woman with the condition. At first glance, she did not seem different from any other person and sat through a three-hour interview with me and answered half the questionnaire in a logical and clear manner.
Later, she revealed she had bipolar disorder that was controlled by medication. She said that when the effects wore off, she would have to take a new dose or isolate herself so she did not hurt her five-year-old son or other people.
She said people would usually stare at her strangely when they saw her taking her medication.
At the end of the interview, she expressed her gratitude towards me for not treating her differently.
Mental illness is still very much a taboo subject in our society today. I admit that I used to judge people with mental illness, but my year of working as a volunteer has given me a whole new perspective of them.
Li Dan Yue (Ms)


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Letter to The Straits Times: Help the mentally ill tell their stories

Professor Chong Siow Ann, Vice-Chairman of the IMH Medical Board (research) wrote an interesting commentary on schizophrenia last Friday, and I applaud him for the effort. Indeed, psychiatric patients struggle to come to terms with mental illness and grapple with the side-effects of the medications.  

I have the utmost respect for patients who have the courage and conviction to tell their stories; and more should be done to this end.  I am working on a novel – a caregiver handbook – about 150 pages that will give family members a step-by-step direction on how to look after a loved one suffering from schizophrenia based on my wealth of experience in taking care of my wife.  It will give insightful peeks into her illness and how I pick her up each time she falls ill.  I will have to fund the book myself as its so difficult getting grants. But I fervently believe it will be a useful resource for caregivers who often grope in the dark when trying to help a loved one with schizophrenia. This is my calling, my mission.

My press letter to the Straits Times published today is in respond to that insightful and frank commentary by Prof Chong. Thank you.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

Letter to The Straits Times: Help the mentally ill tell their stories

My letter on the above matter was published in the online section of The Straits Times on Tuesday 12th November 20013.

Last Friday’s commentary (“Shedding light on those with schizophrenia”) provides an insightful peek into what goes through the mind of a patient with schizophrenia.

An effective way to raise more awareness of mental illness is to write compelling stories about how psychiatric patients and their caregivers struggle with mental disorders.

This is part and parcel of advocacy and should be encouraged. Most certainly, people with mental illness should in no way be “imprisoned” by their conditions.

Both my wife and I have benefited from telling our stories because it not only raises more awareness of schizophrenia, but also offers us the opportunity to chart new directions in life and gives my wife a sense of self-worth.

However, publishing a book does not come cheap.  It can cost anything from $4,000 to $6,000 to print 500 copies. On many occasions, my wife and I have had to dip into our savings to fund the books that we wrote.

Some people who face adversities in life, be it through mental illness or other challenges, have approached me on how to go about writing their stories, but are concerned about the publishing cost.

To this end, I urge the National Arts Council to offer special grants to psychiatric patients and their caregivers.

After which, the council can help them keep the royalties from book sales and, with the collaboration of the Institute of Mental Health, assist the writers to promote their books effectively.

Raymond Anthony Fernando





Friday, November 8, 2013

Concessions for mentally ill patients and caregivers? Advocate for the mentaly ill extraordinary ,Raymond Anthony Fernando writes to the press

Advocacy must be part & parcel of a good mental health care system, its the practice in well developed countries like Hong Kong , Australia  & America.  We have a long way to go as far as mental health support is concerned.

Check out my letter to the Straits Times.

Letter to ST: Concessions for mentally ill patients and caregivers?

My letter on the above matter was published in The Straits Times on Friday 8th November 2013.

I welcome the proposal by the Fare Review Mechanism Committee to provide subsidised public transport fares to disabled people (“Fare concessions for more commuters: Panel”; Wednesday).

Taking care of loved ones with chronic illnesses can be draining for caregivers, more so with the rising cost of living. Many caregivers are retired or have given up their jobs to focus on caring for their loved ones.

A major concern for them is the transport expenses incurred when they take their loved ones to hospitals and polyclinics for regular medical appointments. On average, I take my wife, who is battling schizophrenia, for at least eight medical appointments a month.

The committee has recommended concessions for people with disabilities. But what about individuals with “hidden” disabilities such as mental illness?

They may have difficulty finding work because of the stigma attached to their conditions, and need to travel on public transport to search for jobs.

So I urge the Government to consider this group and their caregivers as well when approving fare concessions. To prevent abuse, a special concession card with a photo of the caregiver could be issued by the transport operators. The same could be applied for mentally ill patients, who would need a supporting letter from a psychiatrist.

Mr Raymond Anthony Fernando



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Airport sculpture incident: More compassion needed- Raymond A Fernando's letter to the press

As I read the report “Police arrest woman who damaged sculpture at airport” (Nov 4), I could not help but wonder if the woman who risked life and limb could be suffering from psychological problems.

I commend the police for rescuing her in time; otherwise, she could have sustained serious injury or even a fatal injury. Our boys in blue did the right thing by arresting her under the Mental Health Act where she could be closely monitored by professionals and referred to specialists for treatment.
But I am disturbed by the insensitive online comments hurled at the woman, such as “crazy” and other demeaning names. At first glance, it appears that she had vandalised the sculpture, but there could more to it than meets the eye. Let us not be too quick to judge those going through the stresses of life — whether they are our own citizens or foreigners — and more so when we do not know much about the woman’s background.

The authorities should do all they can to help her. After all, she could be someone’s daughter, sister or wife. And every life must be valued and treasured.

In the meantime, perhaps the frontline staff can be trained to look out for symptoms of mental distress to better handle such situations. As an additional measure, those travelling alone should provide a next-of-kin contact number on their visitor arrival forms, to facilitate the rendering of assistance if and when it is needed.

Just as Singapore has achieved a first in many areas, let us also strive to be No 1 when it comes to kindness and compassion.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dating online portal Ashley Madison: Raymond A Fernando's letter to The New Paper: Reject any site that promotes infidelity

My letter on the above matter is published today – Tuesday 5th November 2013 in The New Paper,
 Page 7.

I refer to the recent articles about online dating portal Ashley Madison planning to set up operations in Singapore.  

Ashley Madison’s online slogan says that since life is short, it’s perfectly okay to have an affair. 

This mentality of enjoying oneself will only cause marriages to fail because the promotion of such a mission is destructive and selfish.

As it is, there has been an increase in the number of divorce cases, so we should reject outright the setting of any website that promotes infidelity.  

My belief is that if life is short, we must do whatever good we can – today.

We must do our best to nurture families to bring out the best in them.

Marriage can be compared to a sensitive plant.  It needs to be nurtured and cared for so that it can grow.  If the plant is neglected, it will wither and die.

Similarly, give a marriage the attention and care it needs, and it will grow. 

To promote successful marriages, I call on the  Ministry of Social and Family Development to invite couples who marriages have passed the test with flying colours to conduct motivational talks and workshops.

Most certainly, if we put our heart and soul into building a solid partnership, we will experience the depths of joy and happiness a fulfilling marriage can bring. 


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Give a caregiver’s allowance for caregivers to lighten their load: An open letter to DPM Tharman Shanmugartnam:

Straits Times reader  Dr Jaclyn Toh Ai Lin wrote in to the Straits Times last week to highlight the financial difficulties caregivers face in taking care of their elderly sick relatives.  I appreciate very much the compassion and wisdom expressed by Dr Jaclyn Toh Ai Lin in her letter (“Ease financial burden of caregivers; last Thursday).

Most certainly, caring for an elderly relative involves lots of sacrifices and commitment. Yet support measures to help ease their struggles are very weak.  In the case of caregivers caring for the mentally ill, the task is even more daunting.

I have looked after my wife for 37 years and had no choice but to give up my $2,000 job in 2001 because she was going through so many relapses of her schizophrenia –15 in all.

Five months ago, after my wife’s knee surgery, the doctors in the Ang Mo Kio rehab hospital recommended that I secure a part-time maid as they are worried sick that I will continue to suffer burnout.  Appeal letters were sent to several ministers, but all turned a blind eye. (See recommended letter from the doctor which is attached at cover). My Member of Parliament, Seng Han Thong has tried his level best to help secure a part- time maid for us, but even his compassionate appeal has been rejected.

Today, with my wife’s arthritis condition taking a turn for the worse, as a writer struggling to make ends meet, I often have to write my books in the wee hours of the morning as she requires care for the most part of the day because of fall risks.  

Then comes the next hurdle – marketing my books at churches and other platforms. There are some 30 Catholic churches in Singapore, but only six allow me to sell my books at their masses.  In the Institute of Mental Health, books which their staff write – many of whom are doctors, take centre stage while those penned by patients and caregivers are given less prominence.

Psychaitric patients seeking treatment for their mental disorders countinue to face job discrimination from employers.  The government repeatedly says there will be no welfare, only workfare.  When such patients cannot find jobs, in what way can they apply for workfare?

To ease the emotional, physical and financial burden on caregivers, I appeal to the Singapore Government to seriously consider giving a montly allowance of $400 to long suffering caregivers. This practice is carried out in well developed countries like the U.K. Canada and Australia.

Can this request along with the services of a part-time maid which I have been trying to secure for 6 months, be met, DPM Tharman?  I appreciate a reply from your office.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Blogged on Raymond's blog- Ray of Light  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Passing of a Great TV Producer - Cynthia Chew: You will be missed

My letter on Cynthia Chew’s untimely passing & legacy gets published in Mediacorp’s 8  days magazine this week, and wins the best letter award with a dining voucher for 4. Check it out on page 6.

MediaCorp has lost one of its best TV producers in Cynthia Chew Choon Hoon.  Her  untimely demise caught many of us by surprise.  I worked with this unassuming producer during my 31-year career in broadcasting. She was an extremely dedicated and ate, drank and breathed TV.  While most of us were still in bed, Cynthia was in the office as early as 7am almost daily.

To me, she was not just a colleague. She was a dear friend who always encouraged and inspired me.  I remember being sceptical about taking on the role of two lawyers in the local courtroom drama True Files when she first approached me. But her persistence and encouragement eventually paid of.   

Cynthia leaves behind a legacy of household names like Growing Up, Moulmein High, and Crime Watch; just to name a few. 

Farewell Cynthia, you may be gone, but the memories you gave me and all our viewers will live on.


– Raymond Anthony Fernando

Friday, October 25, 2013

Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to The New Paper: Kudos to Jade Rasif

Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to The New Paper: Kudos to Jade Rasif

My letter to The New Paper on the above subject is published today, Wed 25th Oct 2013, on page 25.  

In the report, “Proud of who I am” (TNP October 23) The New Paper New Face first runner-up Jade Rasif is shown to display tremendous courage despite facing adversities in her life.

When we are faced with huge challenges in life, we can either throw in the towel or we can learn to build our inner strength to overcome the odds stacked up againts us.  

Jade Rasif has done exceptionally well in turning her life around with sheer determination and tenacity.  She needs our support.

The alleged wrongdoings of her father, David Rasif should not in any way put Jade in bad light.


In cyberspace, I have seen nasty comments used to humiliate, demean and hurt innocent people. 

If we are going to build a gracious and caring society, this is not the way to go.  Instead, we should emails and the Internet for all the right reasons– to lift the human spirit.

Coping with disabilities is really tough and although Jade suffers from dyslexia – a reading disorder,– the undergrad has turned her disability into strength and is  hoping to pursue a master’s degree in clinical psychology. 

Most certainly, having gone through the trials and tribulations of her dyslexia, this gungho lady can make a healthy contribution in the field she has opted for.  

They say love conquers all, and the love which her mother gives will pull her through any crisis.  For love, understanding and support can easily transform lives.

I wish Jade all the very best in her studies and everything she hopes to achieve. Perhaps, one day, she could write a novel to give encouragenment and hope to those who are struggling with disabilities.

Because every one of us has a book inside of us. 




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An open letter to Dr Ng Eng Hen- Singapore’s Defence Minister: Give adequate recognition to women who perform NS and to citizens who come up with good suggestions/ideas

There has been much discussion in the media and on the internet as to whether women should perform National Service (NS) for our country.  Some feel that NS should be restricted to male Singaporeans while others feel that foreigners who take up permanent residents must be made to do NS to show their commitment to Singapore.

We can either make it compulsory for girls who turn 18 to be conscripted or give them to the option to volunteer their service to the nation in other forms, such as in social service.

Women can perform NS for the country in non-military areas as such in hospitals and nursing homes – an idea which I mooted to the press way back in June 2010.

(See my proposal to the press on 30th June 2010)

But to encourage and motivate and inspire women to undertake national service in whatever form, the Government needs to provide incentives that records their appreciation and recognition to those who take up the challenge.

One way to do this is to offer jobs to women who have performed well in their NS obligations.  During my NS days, MINDEF had a Job Placement Centre (JPC) that assisted NS men to find suitable jobs and every recruit was motivated to give their best performance. I benefitted from JPC’s assistance and went on to have an illustrious career in broadcasting that spanned 31 years.

The same principle could be applied to women who serve in the social sector.  Fresh out from school or university, these young energetic women who serve in hospitals, nursing homes or any government agency that requires more manpower, these women can be offered career paths in the organisations where they undertook their NS obligations.
Singapore is facing an acute shortage of doctors and nurses and it would be an added incentive if scholarships are offered to those who perform their NS duties with dedication, commitment and a sense of caring for our citizens.  It is a definite win-win situation.

Our teachers and principals are under a lot of stress and it would help if they  receive more admin support so that they can focus on their primary task- teaching.

Secondly, the Government needs to accord some sort of recognition/rewards for citizens who have come up with useful suggestions/ideas that helps to make this country a better place to live, work and play in.  This idea which I thought of should not go unrecognized, for it is IDEAS and PEOPLE that make a nation.

In building a better future for Singapore, let us be proactive and courageous to test out bold and even radical ideas.

I would like to hear from MINDEF, Dr Ng.



Uploaded onto my blog.





Saturday, October 19, 2013

Letter to The Straits Times: Caregiving is a responsibility, not a burden



My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter was published on Saturday 19th October 2013.


Outgoing National Council of Social Service (NCSS) head Ang Bee Lian’s suggestion to prepare an adult in every household to be a caregiver is practical and timely (“Scene of family having meal on floor moved her”; Monday).

During her tenure at NCSS, I sought her assistance periodically and she would help us wherever possible, because she fully understood how difficult caregiving for the mentally ill could be.

Many people view caregiving as a burden rather than a responsibility.  My former boss fervently believed that caregiving was a vocation, and I fully endorse his wisdom.

In any job we undertake, if we love what we are doing, we can be very productive.  The same applies to caregiving.

We must never view caregiving as a burden, otherwise we would give care grudgingly and family ties could become strained.

With Ms Ang’s move to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, I hope she will be in a better position to provide a wider scope of support for caregivers.

With the Government’s support, we can promote caregiving as a noble vocation and raise it to a much higher level.  This also has to be done in schools, in the office, in religious organisations and in the community.  If we can succeed, we can transform lives and make Singapore the best home to live in.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

Probe deeper into the underlying problems in neighbour disputes

Probe deeper into the underlying problems in neighbour disputes

I could not help wonder if there are more underlying problems in the neighbour dispute which has surfaced in Jurong West (“Ugly Jurong West neighbour”; TNP, Oct 8).

Living in high rise flats with close proximity, coupled with long and draining work schedules can sometimes affect our tolerance levels – more so when our stress levels are shooting up.  As I follow the neighbour disputes that are taking place in the heartlands periodically, I am concerened that there could be more than meets the eye.

Madam Ng Wai Leng would wake up and find cigarette butts and faeces thrown into her flat, and she and her two children have been on the receiving end of insults in Hokkein by Madam Soh.  Madam Ng feels that the ugly behaviour on the part of Madam Soh – captured on camera, started when the neighbour got agitated when Madam Ng asked her about her missing pair of slippers.

Other neighbours, such as Madam Nur who lives below the disputing familes mentioned that fights and guarrels in the middle of the night in Madam Soh’s flat were common.  According to Madam Ng, her neighbour would swing curses at her husband when he stepped out of their flat because she opined that he was “making noise.”

The HDB who has investigated the disputes must probe deeper into these kinds of disputes as there could be more underlying problems when neighbours display such unsocial behaviour.  Perhaps, stress could be taking control of their lives.

It is therefore imperative that the Law Ministry, the HDB, the Police, the Peoples Assocation, the  grassroots leaders, the Family Service Centres and the Ministry of Health work closely together to address and find quick solutions to neighbour disputes. 





Friday, October 18, 2013

What patients need to recover from mental illness

My report on the above matter was published in TODAY newspaper on Friday 18th Oct 2013.

Mr Acmad Toquero Macarimbang’s commentary, “Family, bomohs and why mentally-ill aren’t seeking help” (Oct 13, online), strikes a chord with me.

There is a general lack of education among Asians on mental illness, and many of those who are afflicted do not admit the illness. This is perhaps understandable, given its stigma within communities, which is also the main cause of not seeking treatment early.
The condition of people with mental illness often worsens then. Even today, there is a belief that they have been charmed, which is why many turn to bomohs (spiritual healers).

My wife’s schizophrenia erupted when she was 17. Her family believed that witchcraft had been used on her, and took her to a medium. Her condition improved only when she sought treatment at the Institute of Mental Health.

The other obstacle to seeking professional help is that many patients and family members are often in denial. Then, after they seek treatment, patients relapse due to lack of supervision, medication compliance and follow-up treatment.

People fear what they do not understand, which is why public education on mental illness must be intensified in schools, workplaces, religious organisations and in the heartlands.

News reports of the mentally ill causing disruptions in housing estates, and there have been several, deepen the stigma. And if a person seeks treatment, he is deemed to be “mad”.

This misconception can be changed if the sufferers and their caregivers see patients recovering and going on to lead normal lives. Indeed, there are many success stories. My wife, who is coping well, has been a beacon of hope for several patients and their family members.

Together, we give encouragement and motivation to those who are willing to seek treatment. But it is not always easy. Although there have been improvements in our mental health-care system, more needs to be done to help people cope with mental illness.

For a start, there must be a good structural support system for carers, including financial, emotional and physical support, as they often suffer burnout when caring for the mentally ill practically the whole day, 365 days of the year.

And since an idle mind is a devil’s workshop, we need employers to be enlightened and employ patients who are responding well to treatment.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Letter to The Straits Times: GOVT COMMUNICATION: Top priority: Respond promptly

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter was published on Saturday 12th October 2013.

The Public Service Division’s initiative to get government agencies to communicate simply with sincerity and empathy will most certainly improve the image of the public service (“Govt agencies’ new goal – write simply, with sincerity”; Wednesday).

Poor written or verbal communication or none at all leads to a lot of misunderstandings and unhappiness.

Very often, people who call up government agencies are pushed from one department to another.  There is a “no wrong door policy” in place, but not many civil servants practise it.

At other times, the phone rings but no one picks it up, or a voice message says: “Your call is important to us. Please leave your number and we will get back to you as soon as possible.” And one is kept waiting because often, the call is not returned.

Even with the promptness of e-mail, many public sector officers, including office bearers, don’t bother to respond.

But if a complimentary letter is sent, a reply will come almost immediately.

The most important thing is to respond quickly to members of the public who make the effort to write to government agencies, especially if there are lapses in service standards.

A simple acknowledgement or phone call informing the writer that his letter has been received and is being given attention will ease his anxiety and frustration.  But few public servants do this.

And in replying to letters from the public, it is important to indicate the replying officer’s name and direct contact number, to facilitate easier communication.

Computer-generated letters, which give the impression that the department “does not want to be disturbed”, should also be done away with.


Raymond Anthony Fernando


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Letter to Mediacorp’s TODAY newspaper: Carers can help steer the way in mental health issues

My letter on the above matter was published in MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on Thursday 3rd October 2013.

The online report, “Steering committee for mental healthcare issues useful: Halimah Yacob” (Sept 27), is about an issue close to my heart.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said it would be useful to have a committee that allows for feedback and suggestions and that can help people who are experiencing mental health issues on a daily basis. I agree with her that a holistic approach is necessary in tackling these issues.

The views of dedicated carers who have successfully helped their loved ones to a full recovery can help the proposed steering committee to formulate policies that would benefit the growing psychiatric community here.
To this end, experienced carers should also be prepared to offer their services and be allowed to sit on the committee, to do more.

Madam Halimah also cited the challenge of stigma and job discrimination. Many people, employers included, think they know about mental illness, but they do not. There are many recovering patients who, with training and support, have hidden talents and can contribute to society.

To this end, it would be in their interest to remove the requirement in job application forms asking job seekers to declare if they have a history of mental illness. The Manpower Ministry must lead by example.

Mental illness is not an identity but an issue which needs to be tackled quickly, as it is creeping into our schools, the workplace and the community.

World Mental Health Day is on Oct 10. Let us, as a community and a government, be a beacon of light and give hope to those who are struggling to cope with the onslaught of mental illnesses.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Letter to The New Paper: MENTAL HEALTH: Complete overhaul needed

My letter on the above matter was published in The New Paper onThursday 3rd October 2013.

The report, “Face of fury unleased” (The New Paper, Sept 30) and a video of the incident are the talk of the town – for all the wrong reasons. 

The violent behaviour of the alleged attacker is bound to cause further stigmatisation of the mentally ill.

Mental illness can be difficult to manage, partly because many patients and their family members are in denial, and due to the social stigma, many do not want to seek treatment.

The support system for caregivers is also weak.

More needs to be done to ensure that mental illness is not seen as something that causes havoc.

A complete overhaul of our mental health-care system needs to be undertaken.




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Letter to The Straits Times Forum Page: Long, lonely road for caregiver

My letter on the above matter was published in The Straits Times on Monday 30th September 2013.

Last Sunday’s reports on caregivers (“Behind the silver surge”) struck a chord with me. Many of the heart-rending stories spoke of sacrifice, strength, resilience and unconditional love.

Unconditional love is what I have practised for 37 years, and like many of the caregivers featured in the reports, I too have suffered burnout – countless times.

If you are a caregiver to a loved one suffering from a serious mental disorder such as schizophrenia, the journey is much more difficult.

When my wife had a relapse of her schizophrenia after knee surgery, I was left to bear the pain – physical, emotional and financial – alone. In her disorientated state of mind, my  wife believed I was an imposter and not her husband.

Her full recovery took two months. Attempts to secure support failed miserably, even though I sent a flurry of letters to many government agencies. And mind you, I am educated and IT-savvy. What about those who are not literate?

So who cares for the caregivers?

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Monday, September 23, 2013

Letter to The New Paper ST: Support for psych patients - Raymond Anthony Fernando appeals to Mr Lee Kuan Yew to support psychaitric patients

My letter on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Monday 23rd September 2013.

It was a thoughtful gesture for Parliament to celebrate the 90th birthday of Singapore founding prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew last Monday.

Mr Lee showed dedication and commitment by attending the Parliament sitting that day even though it was against doctors’ advice.  That’s the mark of a true leader.

There can be no doubt about Mr Lee’s commitment to making a better life for all Singaporeans.

He has personally supported notable initiatives, for instance in education.

I appeal to him to consider another area where a lot can be done. The psychiatric community here is growing and many in this group are struggling to cope.

Some are in dire need of financial assistance.   They can’t find jobs because of discrimination; and they are being left behind. Yet many in this group have hidden talent and with training, motivation and encouragement, they can make significant contributions to society.

A fund can be set up to support psychiatric patients and their caregivers in their quest to find meaningful work or to set up a business.  Such an initiative can even be a model for other world leaders to support their marginalised citizens.



Friday, September 13, 2013

Heed Defence Minister’s call to provide support for those with special needs: An open letter to the Prime Minister & his cabinet

Friday 13th September 2013

Dear Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong , Ministers & MPS,

In a news report on Channel NewsAsia last Saturday – 7th September, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen who met up with motivational speaker Nick Vujicic called on Singapore to accept people with disabilities and special needs.  I am so glad that Dr Ng has made a public appeal to support people with these conditions.  It looks like the Government is slowly warming up to providing better support for these groups.

There are two kinds of disabilities that affect many in society – those who have a physical condition which is clearly visible, and the other disability which is not clearly visible –mental illness.  These conditions are affecting many in society. Yet, it is often not talked about, not discussed, and often swept under the carpet.  When our suicide rate has gone up 30 percent, should we not talk and discuss about these issues – in a rational way?

I trust that when the Defence Minister was making an appeal to all in our society to accept people with disabilities and special needs, he was also referring to those with mental illnesses. Am I coorect, Dr Ng?

Indeed, if we are already a developed country, we must learn to accept that people with mental health issues are also citizens of this land; and like any other person, psychiatric patients and their family members need encouragement, support, and understanding.

Acceptance of persons with mental illness, eradication of stigma and advocacy play a vital role in helping the psychiatry community here move on in life; and makes for a truly inclusive society.

I am disturbed that day care centres and elderly activity centres are refusing to allow people with mental health issues and their caregivers to have some respite in their organisations.   Whether they do not have trained staff who are unable to handle mental illness or worse still, if they are discriminating against this group, it deprives psychiatric patients and their caregivers of that much-needed support.  This de-motivates caregivers into travelling the long, exhausting and difficult journey.  The Government must correct this or we will have enclaves in our society.

I am equally troubled that many of our Members of Parliament (MPs), advocacy groups and those in the mental health care industry find it “awkward” to speak out passionately about the plight of the mentally ill and their caregivers.  And it is not that they have not read letters in the press on these matters.

I have approached many MPs – opposition ones included, and advocacy groups to speak out for this group, but they all shy away from these issues.  We cannot adopt attitudes that “if it does not affect me or my family, it is none of my business.”  It is so wrong to do this.   The Government’s call is for all Singaporeans to take care of one another, especially those who are needy. 

MP Denise Phua whose teenage son has autism speaks passionately about autism in Parliament and this community has benefitted tremendously from her advocacy.  With Dr Eng’s call to provide support and understanding to those with special needs, I appeal to the Government to appointment an MP to raise the plight of the mentally ill in Parliament – and do so passionately. 

With World Mental Health Day falling on 10th October, let us rally around the psychiatry community here and make a concerted effort to help these citizens re-integrate back into society.




Monday, September 2, 2013

Letter to The Straits Times ST Forum Page: Caregivers of mentally ill need a break too

My letter on the above subject was published in The Straits Times on Monday 2nd September 2013.

Newly promoted Minister of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Chan Chun Sing has launched the free pilot drop-in programme scheme for caregivers of persons with disabilities, (“Break for caregivers with drop-in programme; last Thursday).

The pilot programme is open to all those who have physical or intellectual disabilities, but not to those with major behavioural issues.  Is this fair?

Caregivers of loved ones with physical and intellectual disabilities will benefit from this new support scheme, and as Madam Joanne Ong rightly pointed out in the report, “it’s very tiring to be a caregiver”.

But MSF must also be mindful that caring for a loved one with mental illness is much more tiring, daunting and draining.

Yet, caregivers in this category are once again being left out in the cold, and are deprived of support.

I have every confidence that if a psychiatrist gives a letter to confirm that their patients are responding well to treatment, are lucid and can function well, this new initiative can also be extended to their caregivers.  Is MSF prepared to do this and think out of the box?

When I wrote to The Straits Times in May and gave suggestions for more respite options for caregivers of the mentally ill, the Ministry of Health (MOH) replied that they fully agreed with me and that they would consider these ideas.

Yet, the MSF conveniently omits support for this group.  MSF and MOH must work in tandem to provide better support for caregivers of the mentally ill and not sideline this group of marginalised citizens – more so when the Government wants to ensure fair and just practices.

My wife Doris Lau who appeared in The Sunday Times Life! section recently is a successful author and is clearly lucid as she uses her skills of cooking and writing for therapy. Must she and I be deprived of support on account of her schizophrenia?

Raymond Anthony Fernando






Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY Newspaper: Ensure equal opportunities for the mentally ill

My letter on the above matter was published in TODAY newspaper on Tuesday 27th August 2013.
At the National Day Rally, the Prime Minister highlighted how an A*Star scientist who became blind at age four went on to excel in life.
Such recognition on a national level would encourage people with physical disabilities to work hard and not view their disability as an obstacle to achieving the best results. There are many psychiatric patients who have also excelled in life. But while a physical disability is mostly visible, mental illness is a hidden condition.
Lately, several citizens with physical disabilities have been given due recognition in sports and other fields.
How much recognition, though, is given to people with mental illness who have done equally well?
One way for the “Govt to ensure ‘S’pore society remains fair’” (Aug 24) is to ensure that people with mental illness and their caregivers are given equal opportunities and support to reintegrate into society, whether it is securing jobs in the Civil Service or getting insurance coverage.
We cannot be an inclusive society if people with mental illness lack opportunities to become self-reliant.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Saturday, August 17, 2013

Letter to The Straits Times:: What about insurance coverage for the mentally ill?

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter was published on Saturday 17th August 2013.


NTUC Income’s move to provide insurance coverage to autistic children and young adults is long overdue (“Income launches first insurance scheme for autistic kids, youth”; Thursday).

I am sure parents and caregivers looking after these children will heave a sigh of relief.

MP Denise Phua, whose son has autism, has often spoken out for people with this condition.

But people suffering from mental illness have no one to champion their cause.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has repeatedly assured Singaporeans that no one will be left behind, yet people with mental illness are not being given the support they so badly need.  Indeed, the mentally ill are being left behind – in more ways than one.

For decades, I have tried securing insurance coverage from NTUC Income for my wife, who has battled schizophrenia for 40 years, but this request has been turned down time and again. And mind you, the insurance coverage I sought was to cover her physical illnesses.

So let’s put a halt to discrimination against the mentally ill – once and for all.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Letter to The Catholic News Singapore: Caregivers of the mentally ill need support

My letter on the above matter - to the Catholic News which reaches out to more than 300,000 Catholics in Singapore was published in this newspaper (N) on Sunday 11th August 2013, page 16. 

This letter was written by me in response to newly appointed Archbishop William Goh’s call to Catholics to pray for these Catholic volunteers so that they do not suffer burnout. 

I refer to the report, “Caring for The Carers,” (CN, July 28).

I applaud and recognise the good work which the volunteers and ministries carry out unselfishly to support the needy.  And I agree that these “wounded healers” are likely to suffer burnout as they administer assistance to the needy.

But just like these “wounded healers” there is another group that is in dire need of support, conveniently forgotten, and who have suffered burnout.  These are psychiatric patients and their caregivers who have been crying out for help for decades, and yet find it so difficult to secure support.

Our suicide rates have gone up by 30 percent as many people struggle to cope with depression in a society that is bent on economic growth rather than emotional gains.

 Depression and other types of mental illnesses are issue - an issue which the Government and the church need to address - quickly.  So let’ not sweep this problem under the carpet.

I have been very vocal about people struggling with mental illness because I have witnessed the devastation it has brought to my wife, who suffers from schizophrenia; and others in her condition. 

I have seen the tears of caregivers, I have heard their cries for help, and I have felt their pain.  Yet, many in our society cannot accept that these citizens are also God’s children. 

Sadly, the media sometimes presents people with mental illness as violent, criminal, dangerous, comical, incompetent and fundamentally different from the rest of us. 

These inaccurate images perpetuate unfavourable stereotypes, which can lead to the rejection and neglect of people with psychiatric disorders. 

Last month when my wife underwent knee surgery and suffered a relapse of her schizophrenia, I had to bear the pain all alone. 

My attempts to secure the much needed support as I grieved all alone for more than six weeks, failed miserably because everybody claims to be “very busy”. 

Instead, it was recovering patients, caregivers of the mentally ill and non-Catholics that readily stepped forward to rally alongside me that enabled me to keep my sanity.

If Catholics like us are prepared to carry out the teaching of Christ and the marriage vows to the letter, then why pray tell, are we being deprived of the love, support, understanding and compassion that we so badly need? 

So I urge the archbishop to give the mentally ill and their caregivers the attention and support that we are in dire need of so that we will no longer be ostracised from society.

This is the mark of a gracious and caring society.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Singapore 560601