Monday, September 21, 2015

Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to The New Paper: MAN WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA KILLS MUM: More awareness needed for mental illness

My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today, Monday 21st September 2015 on page12.

I am deeply saddened that a young adult, Sujay Solomon Sutherson, has killed his mother in a violent tragedy.  The report “We didn’t expect such severe violence” (The New Paper, Sept 16) was so heartrending that it brought tears to my eyes.

Patients struggling with schizophrenia that is left untreated can be plagued by auditory hallucinations and delusions so overwhelming that they perceive a need to defend themselves and go on the attack.  It is often the voices in their troubled minds that drive them to do wrong.

Antipsychotic medications can suppress these voices in their minds, though relapses may occur if patients find it challenging to keep up with their treatment regimes.

It is also not easy for caregivers to persuade their loved one to always comply with their doctor’s prescriptions. There can be arguments that tear families apart.

It is unclear if this young man and his family received sufficient patient care and caregiver support from professionals. 

It was reported that he was jobless. Had he been able to find work through a dedicated case manager, it could have helped in his recovery. Work works for the mentally ill.  It gives them dignity and sense of self worth. This year’s World Mental Health Day theme is, “Dignity in Mental Health.”  Keeping this in mind, we should intensify public education on mental illness adopting a holistic approach, with doctors taking care of clinical aspects and resilient patients and caregivers sharing their life experiences.

Greater awareness is key in saving and reclaiming lives and preventing such tragedies.


Footnote:  Every child I am sure loves his/her mother, and I am confident that this 34-year-old man does as well. But can you imagine how he would feel when he is stabilized and comes to his senses.  Then realizes that he has killed his dear mum.

It is high time that public education as outlined by me in this press letter must continue relentlessly and stretched out island-wide. I have 40 years’ experience that has not only brought my late wife (she had schizophrenia for more than 4 decades) to a full recovery, but I managed to help her become an author of 8 books– half of it bestsellers.  How many patients with this condition have achieved some remarkable success – in Singapore and even in Asia? Yet my expertise is not valued.   I am now 65; going on 66 in Feb next year and I want to do all I can to help these marginalized citizens, even though I face HUGE obstacles in wanting to save lives. There is far too much resistant because people don’t like to do what they perceive as “Extra Work”.  

PM Lee has called on all Singaporeans to step forward to help the government and I try so hard to do that.  My advocacy journey has been met with curses – both at me and my wife.  When I request for funding to write my books, hurtful comments , like , “ He thinks we owe him a living”, are said behind my back.  And such insensitive remarks are made by the very organization that I fully support and speak up for.   But I fear no one, because as a Christian, I am taught to feel for another human being.  On all accounts, I am God-fearing.

2 weeks ago, while waiting for the bank to open, I got into a conversation with a young mother and she was pleasantly surprised - to learn that my wife authored 8 books. She immediately purchased my novel, “Loving a schizophrenic” and strongly advised me to reach out to the Parents’ Support Group in schools – to educate the young as well as their parents on mental illness.  So it’s over to you, Mr Heng Swee Keat.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press: Dr Chee deserves a second chance

My letter to Medicorp’s TODAY Newspaper on the above matter is published today, Thursday 17th September 2015.

I refer to the report, “SDP to explore working closer with WP next time out: Chee” (Sept 14).

It is heartening that the Singapore Democratic Party is considering working with the Workers’ Party (WP) for the next General Election, to help bring about a more unified Opposition, which is good for Singapore in the long run.

From the rallies and campaigning, it was clear to me that SDP chief Chee Soon Juan has mellowed, turned over a new leaf and is contributing to the changing political climate here.

When I read that he had spent the weekend with his family after an “intense past week”, I felt for him and his family. Despite setbacks, he has not raised the white flag but has persevered with the support of his wife and children.
Making a living out of publishing books is not easy, especially if one is unable to secure sponsorship and find suitable platforms to market them. As a writer trying to put food on my table, I know this well.
I recall how Dr Chee was shunned when he was peddling his books at different locations to earn a living. It must have been a humbling experience, but I am happy the tide has turned, with more Singaporeans believing in him and lending him support.
Like anyone else, Dr Chee should be given a second chance in life. So, let us not put down a fallen man, but help to lift the human spirit. Anyone who struggles in life but perseveres through trial and error should be able to see the rainbow after the storm.



Friday, September 11, 2015


I have followed closely the political rallies, campaigning and the rebuttals, many of which were resorting to name-calling and ungracious behaviour.  I will never condone humiliation and to ‘kick a man when he is down.’ I will be full of admiration for anyone or any organization that is willing to lift the human spirit. And don’t I know it so well when I myself as a struggling writer and Singapore’s leading advocate for the mentally ill tries so hard to bring ‘light’ to the mentally ill and their family members – all of whom are suffering in silence. 

Advocacy- a thankless task
Advocacy is a thankless job and people who are heartless will curse you.  And both my wife and I have been cursed to die. I can no longer bury this in my heart cos’ it is tearing me apart. Yes, my wife was cursed to die or I to die so that I will cease to carry this fight to ‘free the mentally ill from their prisons.’ The person who cursed us got her wish, my wife died. Will I die? That remains to be seen.
Lack of support from the church
Now, allow me to relate an incident which took place recently as I tried unsuccessfully to market my novel “Loving a Schizophrenic” which was translated in Chinese at a Catholic Church in Siglap. There were 2 main reasons why I wanted to sell this book at this Church which can benefit even Catholics.
Firstly to educate and help people understand mental illness so that lives can be saved and reclaimed and secondly, to earn some money to put food on my table and pay for my expensive medical conditions that include 2 eye operations that are due. 

And this is what happened after I made the request:
On Wednesday 9th September 2015 at 8.10am I received a call from the Parish Priest Fr Kenny Tan who was yelling his head out at me following my 2nd appeal to him, clearly upset that I had copied my plea for support to the Archbishop.

Imagine getting such a phone call first thing in the morning from a Catholic Parish Priest whose boisterous voice was so loud that it was picked up by the lady behind me near a bank, who comforted me after I shared, with tears in my eyes, my struggles in wanting to earn a decent living through writing and raising awareness of mental illness. And trying so hard to cope with the grief over the loss of my wife.  Is this anyway a priest ought to communicate?

Earlier on Fr Kenny had the audacity to suggest that I sell off my 3-room flat and downgrade to a smaller flat so that I can "live comfortably till my time is up". But does he not know that my home has beautiful memories of my wife which I want to cherish for the rest of my remaining years? How insensitive? Little wonder that many Catholics are leaving the church because some priests are adopting a 'talk-down attitude" as opposed to a talk to attitude".

A crash course in public relations is badly needed for the clergy. Perhaps it is high time that our clergy is reminded of how supportive Pope Francis is of the mentally ill and their caregivers

And although I sent two emails to the Archbishop, he has failed to respond.  Even when my wife died, I had to send the Head of The Catholic Church a couple of reminders before he offered some words of comfort.

Lack of support from SAMH
Next, I wanted to secure some funding for my new books because I write to keep my sanity. I drafted the sponsor letter to make it easier for the Executive Director (ED) of the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) to write a simple cover letter based on my appeal. The staff member handling the hotline was most unhelpful and claimed that the ED was ‘Very busy”. I could not get a chance to speak to the ED either because the staff member refuses to put her on the line.  It is more than 3 weeks now (appeal letter was sent on 18th August), and until now, SAMH is “sitting on it”.  Two emails sent to Dr Daniel Fung of IMH Senior Management who is also the President of SAMH highlighting this lack of support has failed to secure a response.

I give- from the heart
I have done so much for mental health, IMH has benefited tremendously – they have got more staff, more resources and more money because I had the courage and conviction to speak out boldly without fear in the press, on radio and TV on what it is like to care for a loved one suffering from schizophrenia, citing my beloved Doris’ 40 year battle with this severe brain disorder. 

I hope someday kind-hearted individuals or organizations will step forward to help me as I try so hard to earn a decent living and rebuild my life. Thank you for your time & God Bless!



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Open doors to public education on mental illness: Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter appears in the print section of The Straits Times today, Tuesday 8th September 2015.

Having been a caregiver to my late wife, who coped with schizophrenia for 44 years, and as a volunteer with three mental healthcare providers, I share the sentiments expressed by Miss Lee Kay Yan in her letter ("Seek psychiatric, not psychic, help for mental illness"; last Saturday).

In many of the cases that I have handled, family members caring for the mentally ill will approach only those they trust, given the nagging social stigma that is attached to mental illness.

It is crucial for people to learn at first hand the amazing recovery of psychiatric patients through medication and, more importantly, through staunch emotional support from resilient caregivers.

Once this is clearly explained, there is an excellent chance of caregivers getting their loved ones to seek treatment. This, I have done successfully through motivational talks and dialogues.

It is human nature for people to fear what they do not understand.
Holding talks and dialogues on mental illness is never an easy task, because it is viewed as a taboo subject, and people have the mistaken belief that mental illness will never affect them or their loved ones.

Then, there are professionals who are of the opinion that only psychiatrists can give talks on mental illness, and will turn away resilient caregivers who can so easily motivate and give hope to novice caregivers of the mentally ill.

Besides partnering mental healthcare providers to raise public awareness on mental illness, I have also reached out to many organisations to try to boost public education on mental illness.

But I still face an uphill task in trying to reach out to some agencies.

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Press letter to The Straits Times: Hiring retirees a win-win solution

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Tuesday 1st September 2015.

I am sure many older workers would welcome the news that the Government plans to raise the re-employment age from 65 to 67 by 2017 (“Good news for older workers”; Aug 25).
Being gainfully employed gives older workers the opportunity to have key social support.  This will enable them to keep their minds actively engaged and at the same time, help them cope with rising costs.  With their wealth of experience, they can easily be mentors to the younger workers.
Public sector officers who have retired from service could be offered job opportunities in all government departments – be it on a full-time or part-time basis.

If the civil service leads by example, the private sector will be enticed to do likewise.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Press letter to Voices@ Today Newspaper: Offer jobs to more retirees to match raised re-employment age

My letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on the above matter is published today, Tuesday 1st September 2015.

I am sure that many older workers welcome the news on the re-employment age (“Re-employment age to be raised to 67 years by 2017”; Aug 24).

Gainful employment gives older workers the opportunity to get key social support. And with their wealth of experience, they can be mentors to younger workers.

At a recent get-together organised by MediaCorp, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Communications and Information Lawrence Wong paid a fitting tribute to former employees who have contributed to the success of our local television and radio stations.

His tribute was echoed by MediaCorp chief executive Shaun Seow, who mentioned that younger workers can benefit from the broadcast pioneers’ dedication and knowledge. The national broadcaster walks the talk by hiring suitable older staff on a part-time or project basis.

Likewise, public sector officers who have retired could be offered job opportunities, be it on a full-time or part-time basis, in all government departments.

Job opportunities should be created for our retirees, which would enable them to keep their minds engaged and, at the same time, allow them to pay for their MediShield Life premiums, thereby giving them peace of mind on rising health-care costs.

If the civil service leads by example, the private sector would be enticed to do likewise