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.




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