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