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






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