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

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