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