Sunday, August 31, 2014

Singapore’s leading and life-time mental health advocate, speaks out –again!

As Singapore’s leading and life-time mental health advocate, I speak out passionately on mental illness and ageing issues in the media that includes newspapers, TV, radio and even magazines such as the 8 days.   I have to-date authored 25 books and written more than 270 letters to the press over a 10-year period. That works out to about 27 letters a year or 2 letters per month.  I have fought the good fight, and brought so much positive changes to the mental health care system and support for our elderly.  If you follow my letters closely, you would know.   And I did it –MY way.

But it is time someone takes over the baton.   To be an advocate for the mentally ill, one must be prepared to write to the press.  I have done this on hundreds of occasions –without fear, but with a genuine desire to save and reclaim lives so that Singapore can be the BEST home to live, work and play in for EVERY citizens.

Now, check out this  letter, folks:

Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to 8 Days Magazine:  No more lonely nights

My letter on the above subject is published in the 8 days magazine this week:

It is always enlightening and rewarding watching documentaries produced by Channel NewsAsia.  It has produced excellent shows that touch on social issues affecting many citizens all over the world, including Singapore.

Its latest documentary, Loneliness can kill you, is yet another gem.  The programme highlights issues which many elderly face, includes lonelines which has led to some  seniors falling into depression and losing the will to live.

Television with its mass appeal is a good platform to raise the plight of the marginalised as it can help to set the community thinking.  It can also help urge policy makers to craft and fine-tuning policies that support our silver-haired citizens in their twilight years.   

I also hope this show will spur our youth to come forward and volunteer their time with our seniors, even if it’s just to be a friend.

Raymond Anthony Fernando 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Raymond A Fernando's letter to The Straits Times: Allowing private use of public transport sends wrong message

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today – Thursday 28th August 2014.

While some people may find the hiring of MRT trains for private purposes innovative, the Land Transport Authority did the right thing by taking train operator SMRT to task (“SMRT faces sanctions for allowing private use of trains”; yesterday).

During major events like the National Day Parade, commuters brave packed trains to make their way to the event venues because they have no choice.  In a way, this builds resilience among our people.

It is an irony that students from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), on their way to watch a robust game of rugby, are shielded from the slight discomfort of squeezing among other commuters taking public transport.

Allowing private use of public transport by students from a top school indirectly promotes elitism.  It sends the message that anything can be done if one has the money to pay for it.

Do we really want to move in this direction?

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Monday, August 25, 2014

WOMAN DEFECATING IN PUBLIC: Raymond Anthony Fernando writes to the press

My letter on the above matter gets published in The New Paper today – Monday 25th August 2014.

The report, “Woman seen defecating at MRT identified” (The New Paper, Aug 23) said that it was a 34-year-old Singaporean.

Now that the police have referred the case to the National Environment Agency, I hope that a psychiatric assessment can be done on the woman because nobody in the right frame of mind would relieve themselves in public this way.

It is a a shame that some people seem to take a pleasure in humiliating those who expose themselves, clearly not understanding that a troubled mind can cause bizarre behaviour.

The woman is apparently troubled and obviously in need of support.   

Public nudity by the mentally ill may occur as part of the hallucinations and distortions of reality.

In sufferers of a bipolar condition, it may be a manic episode during which they lose their inhibitions, resulting in flashing or streaking or other inappropriate behaviour.

With proper treatment, those with such mental health issues can go on to lead normal lives.

It is good to remember that while people with mental illness face discrimination, the illness itself does not discriminate.  No one is immune and mental illness can strike anyone – young, old, rich, poor.

It is going to take a whole village to stop prejudices, be it against those of a particular race or nationality (many assumed that the woman was from China) or those with brain disorders.  

To be a gracious and caring society, we must show understanding, love and care to those who are struggling in life and do not have coping mechanisms.


Footnote. News on CNA on Monday night, 8th Sept 2014:

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has identified the woman who defecated outside Holland Village MRT station last month as a 34-year old Singaporean with a long history of schizophrenia and intellectual disability.
“In view of the circumstances, a stern warning has been issued,” said NEA. It also asked members of the public to report details if they witness such offences.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to The Straits Times: Why the need for so many cards?

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Wednesday 20th August 2014.

The Ministry of Health’s lapse in paying $64,000 in financial aid to 99 people even after they had died was blamed on data errors by the agent hired to administer the scheme (“Safeguards for aid payouts”; Aug 6).

One way to prevent such errors is for government agencies to work closely with one another and to use technology to enhance their systems.

For example, when a person dies, the Births and Deaths Unit, which comes under the ambit of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), will have to be notified.  The ICA then alerts government agencies, including the Central Provident Fund Board, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health and other related agencies through an interfacing IT program.

To raise productivity, we need to use technology to enhance systems, prevent wastage and slip-ups, and not cause too much inconvenience to the public.

Take, for instance, the numerous cards that are being given out.

Why do we need one card for the Community Health Assist Scheme and another for the Pioneer Generation Package? And for government pensioners, there is the Civil Service Card.

In the end, people go around carrying so many cards.

One should only have to fill in the required forms, send to the relevant agencies, and have the data stored in just one card – the identity card.

Cost savings can then be channelled for social projects to support needy Singaporeans.

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Raymond A Fernando's letter to the press/grieving caregiving who lacks support

To: The Singapore Government

I have kept these painful feelings inside of me for a long time, and it is high time I release my pent-up emotions.  It’s coming up to 5 months since I lost my beloved wife Doris Lau. She died on 17th April 2014 in hospital and I still grief over the sudden loss as she was MY whole world. More so when the circumstance that led to her death has been extremely painful.  I may not be able to move any of you, but still I have to say what is tearing me up inside.  

And I want the Ministry of Health to explain why she died in the manner that she did.

3 weeks or so, before Doris died, she had to undergo a colon test. The next day, big ugly rashes erupted on her shins, stomach, chest and feet. (Take a look at the pictures I reproduced).  I was very upset with the doctors at TTSH who kept apologizing.

Doris died three weeks or so later in hospital.  When she was admitted to TTSH for pneumonia, the doctors took away her away her psychiatric medications as they claimed that it was lowering her blood pressure.  I told them that my wife was sure to suffer a relapse of her schizophrenia if they take that route, because those medications help to keep Doris in a stable frame of mind.  

Shortly afterwards, my wife as I had expected, suffered a serious relapse of her schizophrenia leading to the loss of her speech.   Later she died.

Do any of you know what it is like to see a spouse die when she cannot even speak to her husband in her dying moments?  A woman whom I have loved so dearly and worked tirelessly to bring her to a full recovery of her mental illness?  How would any one of you feel if it happens to your own loved ones?

During the period when the doctors knew that she was dying, there was so palliative care given to both my wife and I. Why?

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his speech at a South West CDC ceremony last month called on the CDCs to find ways to unite Singaporeans (“CDC’s challenge is to help unite Singaporeans”; June 26).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech during the Mayors’ swearing-in ceremony on 20 June called on the Community Development Councils (CDCs) to help build the Social Service Offices to assist the needy as the Government is focused on improving people’s lives.

I know for a fact that there has been a surge in the number of mentally ill people struggling with the illness, and it is likely that more such cases will be coming on-stream.

But the sad reality is that people with mental illness and their caregivers do not receive the same level of support as those with physical disabilities – a key point which I made at Social Service Partners Conference (SSPC) organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on 21 May where its Minister Chan Chun Seng was the guest of honour.  800 people, including several VWOs were present as I also spoke of my pain in losing my wife. The MSF minister’s speech highlighted the government’s effort to build a caring society. Two Mayors, one of whom belongs to my district were present.  They were Teo Hon Pin and Denise Phua who is the Mayor of my district as I live in Ang Mo Kio.  None of those present offered practical support.

For those who are grieving – as with my case, the lack of empathy and support can spiral into dire consequences if immediate assistance is not rendered.  During the first week weeks of my wife’s passing, I first experienced shock; then as the weeks and months go by, the emotional pain is becoming unbearable.  Yet, I find it so difficult to get the much-needed support even though I went public on my wife’s passing at the SSPC and in the press.

More than a month ago, my younger brother called up the Family Service Centre FSC) and told them that I needed support to cope with the untimely death of my wife.  Shortly afterwards, a lady officer called me up took down my particulars – and that was the end of the story. In what way is this support?  Mayors are elected to serve the residents, but are they doing that? Then what is the point of electing Mayors who do not know how to empathize with residents who are going painful periods –as I am.

Mayors and MPs who are elected to serve the people must show compassion by making home visits to offer support to grieving families.

My wife’s passing was raised in media reports–English and Chinese newspapers, but how many politicians understood my pain? But I am grateful to Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, SMS Heng Chee How and the kind-hearrted Dr Vivian Balakrishnan who felt for me, by sending condolence messages to me.  Dr Vivian is an exceptional human being and the kind of politician Singapore needs.  

I was also touched by IMH management staff like CEO Dr Chua Hong Choon and Dr Daniel Fung, Chairman of IMH’s medical board who felt for me knowing well that Doris was also a staunch advocate for persons with mental illness as she was very opened about her mental illness.

But to the rest who cannot understand what I am going through I would like to ask:  Have we become such a cold society where we do not know how to show compassion to the vulnerable in our society?  So ESM Goh Chok Tong: When you speak of compassion as you did in your National Day dinner, do you translate this virtue into action?

Despite all these upheavals, I still continue to support and care for persons with mental illness and the elderly. My mission, my passion, my humanitarian work. The ministry which God has tasked me to do.  

When my wife dies, everything including that much-needed support should not die along with her.  For if that happens, we will lose the Singapore Soul and go downhill.  Moreover, this should not happen in a first world country that wants to promote inclusiveness and a caring society.

Now read the press letter that came out yesterday:  

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press: A hope that new NMPs support the mentally ill
My letter on the above matter is published in MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper, today Monday 18th August 2014.
I am encouraged that Ms Chia Yong Yong, president of the SPD (formerly known as the Society for the Physically Disabled), will advocate for people with disabilities. (“New NMP to advocate for greater inclusion of people with disabilities”; Aug 13)
This group falls into two categories: Those who are physically challenged, which is a visible disability, and those with mental illness, an invisible illness.
Despite the challenges, people with disabilities can go on to have many capabilities, with strong support from the Government and the community. Ms Chia, having excelled in life, is proof of this.
Just as there is much support for people with physical disabilities, it is important to provide the same support for people with psychiatric conditions. It would probably take a whole village to change mindsets, but we must take that step.
Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who chaired the Special Select Committee, has given the assurance that those selected as Nominated Members of Parliament are expected to address issues beyond the sectors and interests they represent.
I hope this can be fulfilled for the growing psychiatric community here.
Though there is prejudice against people with mental illness, the illness itself does not discriminate. No one, whether rich or poor, famous or not, is immune to developing mental illness.
The apparent suicide of award-winning Hollywood actor Robin Williams, who was reported to have had a bipolar condition, is a startling reminder of this.
Crucially, with many Singaporeans grappling with bipolar and other mental disorders, these issues must not be swept under the rug.
Now, a promising NMP and lawyer has made her way to Parliament, and I urge Ms Chia to champion the plight of the mentally ill too. I hope that she and the other new NMPs take up the challenge.





Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Robin Williams untimely passing" : Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to the press

Singapore's leading advocate for the mentally ill Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to ST’s Life Section: "Robin Williams untimely passing"

 My letter on Robin Williams and mental illness appears in the Life Section of today’s Straits Times – Saturday 16th August 2014. Check it out. and here's what I say in that letter. Short letter, but sends a very clear message.

Robin Williams’ passing is a timely reminder for mental illness to be taken seriously. Mental illness is a issue that affects real people and requires support, understanding and compassion for the patients, and their family and caregivers.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Friday, August 15, 2014

Model nursing home : Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to The Straits Times:

My letter on the above subject is published in The Straits Times today, Friday 15th August 2014.

On behalf of my family, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the staff of St Theresa’s Home, who have been providing excellent care and support for my 90-year-old mother.

Although my mother has to cope with age-related health issues like Parkinson’s disease, we have peace of mind knowing she is in good hands.

The nursing home has tie-ups with the Aged Psychiatry Community Assessment and Treatment Service at the Institute of Mental Health, which provides assessments and treatments to the frail elderly with mental health disorders.  This enables the home to better manage patients with dementia and Parkinson’s.

It is also encouraging that the home does not discriminate against people with mental health issues.

The administrator for the home, Mr Victor Seng, takes an interest in the welfare of the residents and makes it a point to visit them regularly despite his busy schedule.

My mother is benefiting from the love and understanding from Mr Seng and the staff at the home.

Future nursing homes should be modelled on St Theresa’s.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Monday, August 11, 2014

WOMEN’S - ONLY PARTY: Let’s hope it can make a difference - Raymond's letter to the press

My letter on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Monday 11th August 2014.  

It is a healthy sign that Ms Ivy Singh-Lim, who is not afraid to speak her mind, is keen to set up a political group called the Gentlewarrior’s Party, as reported in, “Only women need apply ” (The New Paper, Aug 4) .  

I give this gungho woman my best wishes and hope she can make a difference in the lives of those who are marginalised and have no voice.  

Aspiring politicians must be prepared to speak out with courage and conviction on thorny issues such as mental illness and end-life issues. 

Such politicians will make good Members of Parliament (MP) because without them, these issues would get swept under the rug. 

We have citizens, many of them women, who are grappling with depression and other types of mental disorders, which in turn puts a heavy strain on family caregivers, many of who are also women.

Many women are also on the receiving end of abuse, physical and verbal, or their marriages may be falling apart, resulting in broken families and woories over their children suffering.  

Other women who may need more support include the wives of prisoners and caregivers who lose their spouses abruptly. 

So go for it, Ms Ivy Singh-Lim. Be a voice for the voiceless and bring advocacy to a much higher level.



Raymond’s letter to The Straits Times: Support, not sideline, those with mental illness

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Monday 11th August 2014.

I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by Ms Lim Lih Mei in her letter, “Some groups yet to benefit from CPF Life” (Aug 4).

The mentally ill and their caregivers face an uphill task in getting support – be it through employment, social support or financial assistance. Mental and physical disabilities can be easily turned into capabilities if the Government and employers are willing to create opportunities for people with such conditions to find employment.

Until today, the Government refuses to remove the mandatory requirement for job seekers to declare if they have a mental illness.

If they declare that, they will most certainly not get the job. But if they do not declare it, they will lose their job for making a false declaration.

Caught in this dilemma, people with problems often do not seek early psychiatric treatment.  It is wrong to assume that people seeking treatment cannot function or do not have abilities.

For example, people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder can also be creative and brilliant, but they are ostracised as “hopeless cases”.

In fact, many who have sought psychiatric treatment can not only function pretty well, but also excel in life – with the help of enlightened employers and a supportive environment.

Given the highly stressful environment we live in, it is not uncommon for people to struggle with mental health issues.

Employers must understand that work therapy works for the mentally ill. With a change in mindset, more people will step forward for treatment because they know they will not be sidelined if they confide in their employers about their plight.

I hope we can become a more mature and inclusive society, one that is more supportive of those who have to manage mental health issues.

Raymond Anthony Fernando





Saturday, August 9, 2014

Raymond's letter to The Straits Times: Community spirit worth emulating

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Saturday 9th August 2014 in the MY POINT column.

The photograph and short write-up on how dozens of passengers in Perth, Australia, rescued a man whose leg got stuck between a train carriage and station platform caught my attention (“People power to the rescue”; Thursday).

The passengers did not worry if they would be late for work or their appointments.  They had only one thing on their minds – to save the man.

This is the kind of community spirit and resilience that we should emulate, so that we are well prepared for any crisis.

Raymond Anthony Fernando






Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Those who save and reclaim lives are heroes: Raymond’s letter to the press

My letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on the above subject gets published , today, Wed 6th August 2014.

There are many unsung heroes in our midst who are prepared to go the extra mile to change lives. (“What makes an everyday hero?”; Talking Point).

A hero need not be a soldier who saves people during wartime. He or she can be anyone who can reclaim and save lives in peacetime and is prepared to make sacrifices.

These include our dedicated nurses, prison officers, laymen and even family carers.

I have read reports of how some Singaporeans have saved suicidal people from killing themselves, putting their own safety in jeopardy.

One such case in June involved a man who stopped an elderly neighbour from jumping from a height. To me, he is a hero and such good Samaritans should be recognised.

Archbishop William Goh, in his National Day message in the Catholic News, calls on Catholics to open their eyes to those on the fringes of society, among them the elderly sick, former prisoners and patients with psychiatric disorders.

Regrettably, many in society still cannot accept people with mental illness.

So those who are prepared to take the road less travelled and help patients with mental illness recover and turn their lives around, be they family carers or healthcare workers, are heroes.

Agents of change are also heroes. In the early years of television, I never failed to catch the Dr Ben Casey series. I admired his commitment to save lives — at times, he took on the establishment when he felt there was too much red tape. He was everyone’s hero.

There is nothing wrong in giving awards to those who have an earnest desire to save and reclaim lives. It can spur others to do likewise (“Do we still need heroes in today’s world?”; Aug 5).

We must touch society so it feels for every human. Once we can achieve that, Singapore can become the best home in which to live, work and play.


 Footnote:  What can help to expedite the formation of this proposed ministry for psychiatric patients and their caregivers is for the archdiocesan to tie-up with CLARITY, the Catholic Nurses Guild , the SPI which has a Family Service Centre and  volunteer Catholic doctors and nurses who are in the field of mental health and this can get going.  We must translate words into action.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Set up a Catholic Ministry for psychiatric patients and their families: An open letter to Archbishop William Goh

4th August 2014

Archbishop William Goh

Head of the Catholic Church in Singapore

Your Grace Archbishop William Goh,

I read your National Day Message on Singapore’s upcoming 49th birthday and I’m encouraged by the points you have raised with regards to those who are on the fringes of society – such as those with psychiatric disorders – “A nation that goes forth” (CN, August 10).

I also applaud the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM) for the compassion and support which they offer to prison inmates; to you – Archbishop Goh and the priests that stand alongside them in their rehabilitation journey –“Archbishop celebrates Mass with prison inmates” (CN, August 10).

Undoubtedly, the support from the Catholic Church will encourage the prisoners to reflect on their past mistakes and turn over a new leaf. 

Just as prisoners are given full support by the Catholic Church, Catholics who suffer fom mental illness also deserve equal support.   I know of several Catholics who are suffering from depression and other types of mental illness; and their caregivers need a helping hand because caring for a loved suffering from mental illness is often an isolated and arduous journey.  Priests are often at a lost when dealing with psychiatric patients as the illness is complex.

For many Catholics experiencing mental illness, the church can be both a place of welcome and alienation for them as well as their caregivers.  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) one in four people will be affected by mental illness or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.  WHO has also reported that around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability – Worldwide. 

In Singapore, about 10 percent of the population or one in ten will be affected by mental illness.
Stigma, discrimination, neglect, loneliness and lack of support and understanding of mental illness prevent sufferers from seeking treatment. 

Although there is a Catholic VWO in CLARITY, the church needs to cast its net wider in order to reach out to those who feel awkward to step forward – be it for treatment or support as mental illness carries a heavy social stigma.  

To this end, I therefore urge you, Archbishop Goh to consider setting up a ministry dedicated to psychiatric patients and their families. Although it is an area that is challenging, I fervently believe that those who have walked the journey and have a passion for mental illness can help make a difference in the lives of those who are ostracized from society.  If we have a Prison Ministry, I don’t see why we cannot have a dedicated ministry to support people with mental illness.  

Through this ministry, there could public education talks on mental disorders held in churches to raise more awareness of mental illness with caregiver sharing skills to encourage and motivate caregivers to embrace caregiving as a noble job.  Volunteers in this ministry could also visit patients in psychiatric wards and sing, pray and engage them with the love that the church advocates for every human being.   With the assistance of the nurses in psychiatric hospitals, outings can also be arranged for psychiatric patients who are receiving treatment.   

With my 40 years’ experience in caring for my late wife who coped well with schizophrenia until her untimely passing in April this year, I will be first to volunteer my services. It’s a vocation which I have a passion for.  Moreover, my journey with my wife is a good example of how Catholics can keep their marriage vows intact by “caring and loving a spouse in sickness and in health, for better or for worse.”   

May I have your response, please, Your Grace?  Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Advocate for the Mentally ill , Model Caregiver 2007 and Mental Health Champion 2010.
Volunteer with: The Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Silver Ribbon Singapore (SRS), CLUB HEAL and the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

 Footnote: (1) Archbishop Goh: I have written to you a few days ago, but have yet to secure a reply from your office. If it takes some time to think through this, at least provide me with an acknowledgement or an interim reply.  Keep the communications lines open, please - more so when I have take much effort to put this proposal up.

(2) What is needed to get this proposed ministry going is for the archdiocesan to tie up with CLARITY, SPI which has a Family Service Centre, volunteer Catholic doctors & nurses who are in mental health and the Catholic Nurses Guild. It may take some effort, but I believe it is worth investing in seeing the increasing number of people suffering from mental illness.  We must translate words into action.
Reply from CARITAS following my second letter to Archbishop William Goh:
Dear Raymond,
His Grace, Archbishop William Goh has forwarded your email to Caritas to look into your proposal to set up a dedicated ministry to support people with mental illness.
I am sure you are aware that CLARITY was incorporated in October 2010 with objective of alleviating people suffering from mental problems or issues. But you may not be aware that they have been doing great works in providing psycho-therapy and counselling, particularly for persons struggling with mild to moderate mental illness. They have organised art therapy open studio, mental wellness relaxation exercise, meditation and also facilitated support groups as part of the supportive therapy.
They have conducted psycho-education workshops and training for various groups and organisations
1. Understanding mental health - with Church of Risen Christ (befrienders to elderly)
2. Happiness within your reach – with ACMI (foreign domestic helpers)
3. Fridays with Clarity – an in-house developed mental wellness programme to reach those with mental illness but do not want to undergo therapy
As part of their promotion of mental wellness, they have conducted:
1. Mental Wellness Relaxation Exercises Programme – both in English and Chinese.
2. Open Studio Art Therapy
3. Art & Music Jamming
4. Pandan Rosette making workshop
They recently started 2 community programmes, one with Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) in the city area and the other with Harmony Activity Centre (HAC) in Aljunied area reaching out to those who are poor with mental illness or some form of psychiatric disorder, those who are either living alone or with a flat-mate. CLARITY has developed a supportive therapy programme for these two groups of identified beneficiaries separately to invite and integrate these them into a community of acceptance, empower them with independent living skills and integrate them to the larger society.

Your proposal to set up a ministry dedicated to psychiatric patients and their families especially their caregivers who needs a helping hand is only possible if it is done at parish level. But starting community based support groups in parish will take time to develop and manpower resources to coordinate and run the programmes. Currently, CLARITY is only able to serve those around the Yishun area where their office is and those with CWS and HAC, due to limited manpower resources. But this could only be built up over time, maybe in the next 3 to 5 years.
For your information, CLARITY has started working with St Anthony Church in Woodlands to start a wellness programme. For Risen Christ, they are working with their pastoral co-ordinator to explore how they can work together to support persons with mental health, especially when they are located at Agape Village next year.

I am sure with your 40 years’ of experience caring for your late wife, you would be a great volunteer. Perhaps you would like to start volunteering with either St Anthony Church or Risen Christ since they have already started some programmes. As mentioned earlier, to roll out in all Parishes would take some time.

Lastly, I understand from CLARITY that they have been providing care-giving assistance and arranging volunteers to be with your late wife in the last year or so until her untimely demise in April this year. May perpetual light shine upon her, may she rest in peace

God bless

Bernadette Lau
Executive Director
Caritas Singapore


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Raymond's letter to The Sunday Times: Holistic approach needed to manage chronic illnesses

My letter to the Sunday Times on the above matter is published today, Sunday 3rd August 2014.

Senior health correspondent Salma Khalik’s commentary (“Doc, could you speak slower, more simply”; last Sunday) highlights an issue facing both doctors and senior citizens.

It is never easy managing chronic illnesses, especially in the elderly. If their conditions are poorly managed, it can lead to other complex illnesses that require even more medication.

A holistic approach is needed. A good support network that includes caregivers, doctors, social workers and counsellors plays a vital role in the rehabilitation and recovery of the elderly sick, as well as those who are dying.

For novice caregivers who have the unenviable task of managing their loved ones with serious mental disorders, they need to be guided all the way by doctors and nurses when those they are caring for get hospitalised.

For instance, most caregivers are not aware that giving daily reports to psychiatrists on how the patient is responding in the wards, or when they are on home leave, can be help in the patient’s recovery.

An effective way to ensure that medication is taken properly is for the caregiver to type out a list of the prescribed drugs and place it near where they are kept.

This list can indicate the types of medication to be taken for a particular illness and the dosage, while giving some brief details of the drugs, such as the colour or any special design on them.

Finally, for end-of-life issues, palliative care services that involve family caregivers and regular doctors need to be put in place as they offer an extra level of support.

After the patient dies, there must be a high level of support for the grieving caregivers. Do we have this in place?

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Raymond A Fernando's letter to The Straits Times: 'Hands-on' experience in marriage counts too

My  letter on the above subject is published in The Straits Times today, Saturday 2nd August 2014.
With the Government’s goal of encouraging couples to get married and start families, news of a drop in the number of marriages and a rise in divorces rates is cause for concern (“Marriages down, divorces up”; Wednesday).

While I agree that many young couples place priority on building their careers, while others are held back by financial constraints, I am sure we can come up with suitable programmes to help them see the joys of marriage and parenthood.

To motivate young people to tie the knot, they must see at first hand how seasoned couples have lived their marriages to the letter – for example, in caring for a spouse “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse”. Someone who has had “hands-on” experience in being married for decades is just as qualified as anyone with a string of degrees to counsel young people.

Several years ago, I offered to share my experience through motivational talks, but was rejected outright by a government official, who told me I was not a marriage counsellor and did not possess a degree.  Yet, I had kept my marriage vows intact for 40 years.

Keeping the sanctity of marriage intact influences various dimensions of life, such as physical health and longevity, mental health and happiness, economic well-being, and raising children in a conducive environment where love becomes second nature.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has often called on Singaporeans to step forward to help the Government as it cannot solve all problems alone.

So it is only proper for civil servants and even religious bodies to embrace those who are willing to step forward with life experiences and not be so sticky about paper qualifications.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Friday, August 1, 2014

Raymond’s press letter to TODAY Newspaper: Schizophrenia research will lead to better treatments

My letter on the above subject was published in MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on Wednesday 30th July 2014.

The report “Researchers shed new light on schizophrenia” (July 23) stated that researchers from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) had identified genetic markers that would enable better and early identification of those who might develop schizophrenia.

In the long run, this will pave the way for scientists to develop better treatments, which is most encouraging for schizophrenia sufferers and their families.
If mental illness does not hit one generation, it may hit the next. My late wife battled schizophrenia for 44 years and suffered 14 relapses; her parents did not have mental illness, but her maternal grandmother did.
There are also trigger factors that can cause a mental breakdown. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh claim to have discovered why some people are more prone to suffering from stress than others: They shared their mother’s stress while in the womb.
My wife’s mother and grandmother lived through the Japanese Occupation. While she was born eight years later, whenever she suffered a relapse of her schizophrenia, she believed a war was taking place and would become very frightened.
Many people do not realise prolonged war, a succession of natural catastrophes, terrorism and even epidemics have triggered traumas that are difficult to cure. During the SARS period, my wife suffered a serious relapse and took nine months to recover.
Carers of schizophrenia sufferers can give an insightful peek into the condition. To this end, to further develop their research, the team from IMH and GIS can interview seasoned carers, whose valuable experience can make a healthy contribution.