Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Raymond's letter to The Straits Times: All seniors living alone need support

My letter to The Straits Times on the above subject is published today, Wednesday 19th August 2015.

As our population ages rapidly, more seniors who live alone will certainly require better home support to help them in their twilight years, given that the number of seniors aged 65 and above has tripled since 2000 (“Old and home alone” and “He relies on a friend to get help when troubles strikes”; both published on Aug 17).

While we help the elderly living in one-room rental flats, as well as those on public assistance, we must also not forget those in bigger homes who are also living alone.

While some neighbours are helpful, many who work long hours and have family commitments will not be able to respond quickly to lone seniors during a crisis, which can be a life and death situation.

Therefore, we must ensure that we provide support to all seniors living alone, even if they don’t require financial assistance.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Politicians must not forget the mentally ill: Raymond Anthony Fernando writes to the press

My letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on the above matter gets published today –Wednesday 19th August 2015.
I have been following with interest the plans that both seasoned and aspiring politicians are going to undertake for the electorate.
I agree with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean that it is important to have a team with “integrity, stability, the ability to look into the future and execute for the present” (“Coming GE crucial for S’pore to pick leaders for road ahead: DPM Teo”; Aug 15).
It is also important for elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and Cabinet ministers to show empathy and support for the marginalised in society.
This group includes persons with mental illness, who are often isolated because of the nagging stigma they carry practically all of their lives, and their family members.
Although mental illness is a growing problem, and these citizens need all the support they can get, I hardly hear the issue being championed in Parliament, leaving many of their carers to suffer in silence.
Before my wife, who was a psychiatric patient, died last year, I had discussed the daily struggles these carers face, based on my experience and that of others, with several MPs from the ruling party and the Opposition.
It was discouraging when, despite my attempts to seek more support for these needy citizens, mental health issues were hardly raised by the MPs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Unconditional love vital in the recovery of mental disorders : My views – On my blog:

Professor Chong Siow Ann, 53 who is the Vice- Chairman of the Medical Board (Research) at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and a senior consultant psychiatrist there, wrote a commentary last Friday 7th August 2015 on the power virtue of love that can help persons suffering from schizophrenia recover and even excel in life.  I am responding to that commentary in this letter based on my life experience in caring, loving and providing unconditional love to my late wife– Doris Lau Siew Lang.
Unconditional love vital in the recovery of mental disorders
Support and understanding from the community and more importantly, unconditional love from family members are vital in the recovery of persons trying to cope with schizophrenia (“Tender loving care the best treatment for schizophrenia; Friday 6 August; The Straits Times). 
Through the many public education talks which I give periodically, I still find that there a lot of misconceptions of schizophrenia – even among the highly educated as many still believe that persons with schizophrenia have split personality when in fact, it is the splitting of the mind that causes sufferers to experience hallucinations and believe that people are trying to harm them.  This is why it is absolutely necessary to continue with such public education talks – to reach out to all sectors of the population – because generally people fear what they do not understand.
It is terribly depressing to see a loved go through relapses of schizophrenia and having seen first-hand how my late wife went through 12 relapses of this brain disease, I was often helpless.  But through my 40-year journey in caring for her until her passing last year, I have learnt that medication compliance formed only 50 percent of her recovery.  The other 50 percent that brought her to normal self was the powerful virtue of love, coupled with lots of patience and understanding.

With undying love from family and friends Mathematical genius John Nash and Prof Sakes were also able to recover from schizophrenia and go on to excel in life, contributing as useful citizens in society.

That said, I encourage all caregivers who are managing loved ones suffering from schizophrenia or other mental disorders to learn as much as they can on mental illness and put into practise the virtues of love and understanding even though the illness can often test one’s patience.  But always bear in mind that ultimately, love conquers all.


Raymond Anthony Fernando



Friday, August 7, 2015

Broadcast pioneer was caring, dedicated: Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to the press on the late Steven Lee

My letter to The Straits Times on the above subject was published on Friday 7th August 2015.

I fondly remember the late Mr Steven Lee as one of the pioneers in the broadcasting industry (“The man behind historic broadcast”; Aug 6).

Steven had a couple of firsts. He was the first person to read the English news on television and he was also the first person to organise the first Talentime contest.

In the 70s and 80s when Steven was the Controller of Radio (Special Duties), I was in the public relations section of the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.  He was one of the finest colleagues I worked with – a humble, hardworking and caring colleague who possessed remarkable compassion.

Once, when my wife was hospitalised, Steven and his wife Amy drove me to the hospital, spoke to my wife and prayed for both of us, providing comfort at a time when I badly needed support.

Steven was a dedicated and committed broadcaster. When I was a liaison officer during the Asean exchange programmes, Steven would accompany me to the airport to receive the delegates from all the Asean countries even though he could have delegated the task to others.

Steven would take me to a restaurant for a hearty breakfast treat on those trips to the airport, surely because he knew the meagre salary I was drawing then.

He was a man who believed in caring and sharing.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Be mindful of elitism as it can create enclaves in society: My views - On my blog

I share the sentiments expressed by both Raffles Institution principal Chan Poh Meng and Straits Times journalist Amelia Teng on being mindful of elitism (“A hard look at averting elitism”; Wednesday 5 August 2015).

Whether we want to admit it or not, elitism in schools automatically makes a class separation. Elitism will not only create enclaves in society and widen segregation, but pockets of a class society will emerge.  This is not healthy when the Government is keen to promote an inclusive society. 

Many students who are well to do get driven to schools by their parents, and have maids to tend to their needs.  These students do not experience the difficulties in travelling in our jammed- back trains and buses.  They do not see how many in our society who are clearly disadvantaged having to struggle with disabilities, discrimination, poor health and isolation.    

These bright students in top schools will one day enter the workforce; hold managerial positions with some entering the political arena.  Therefore if they are not in touch with the ground, they will not be in position to understand the struggles which the less fortunate in our midst have to go through in their daily lives.  

One way to get the students to understand the plight of needy Singaporeans is for the top schools to enroll their students as volunteers, answering the call by the MSF Minister to give their time and effort to this useful cause.  Once the students see first-hand how the marginalised in our society have to grapple with a whole range of issues practically every day in their lives, the students will be in a better position to show love, understanding and support for our needy citizens. This will ultimately pave the way for a far better society where everyone looks out for another – irrespective of their status in society.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Appointed Government ministry can help secure volunteers; coordinate volunteering activities : An open letter to the Singapore Government

I welcome the pledge by Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin to improve the coordination among the public agencies so that assistance is made easier for vulnerable groups “Coordinated support for vulnerable groups to be improved”;  27 July , TODAY Newspaper ).
It is also encouraging that the MSF Minister is keen to get more people to become volunteers as they can play an important role in society. 

I have been a volunteer with the Institute for Mental Health and two other mental health providers for several years, and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction as I am able to motivate, inspire and give hope to patients and their family caregivers with the ultimate goal of giving them all a meaningful purpose in life.  Volunteering that makes a big difference in the lives of the vulnerable and bring sheer joy to them can be the motivating and guiding principle for people to sign up as volunteers.

It is no easy task securing volunteers, but I fervently believe that the civil service which is Singapore’s biggest employer with a workforce of 82,000 civil servants can lead by example.  To achieve this, I propose that a Government ministry be appointed to secure volunteers from every ministry and then organise programmes and activities to reach out to the vulnerable in our society.  For better team work, public sector volunteering programmes can be within a ministry or across ministries. The vulnerable in our society should not be just children or those living in one-room HDB flats, but adults, persons with disabilities – visible and non-visible and those living in bigger flats who are isolated with lack of social support.

Whether it is sprucing up a home, painting a flat, befriending the elderly, taking the less fortunate for meals, accompanying the elderly sick to hospitals and clinics for medical appointments or organising a sponsored event for nursing homes and hospitals, such meaningful work can give a deep sense of satisfaction to the volunteers.  Added to this, once public sectors officers carry out volunteer work, they will have a better understanding of the marginalised in our midst and then be well positioned to help their senior management and ministers fine tune policies and make Singapore a truly inclusive society where no one is left behind.

The noble job of volunteering can be factored in the yearly staff appraisals, and ministries and staff who excel in proving excellent programmes for the vulnerable can be given awards annually in recognition of their  dedication and commitment to the less fortunate.