Monday, October 10, 2016

Media – An Important Role in De-stigmatizing Mental Illness

Dear all,

Do find time to read this article, here on Happy TV. It is high time that compassion is shown to those who make huge sacrifices as caregivers to the mentally ill and yet, suffer all alone. Pope Francis has repeatedly called on Catholic Churches all over the world to fully support the mentally ill & their caregivers. Is this being practiced?



Raymond Anthony Fernando

About 5 years ago when my wife was still alive, a lady friend told me that in a game show on a TV program in America, people were asked to name secrets, which they would be too shameful to reveal or talk about.  They were given a list of three secrets to choose from:  Taking drugs on the sly, robbing people and having a mental illness.  Surprisingly, most people chose to have a mental illness as the most shameful thing to reveal.

I have much admiration for people who are willing to speak candidly on mental health issues. One such person is Ms. Sukriti Drabu whose letter to the Straits Times gave insightful peeks into the reality of mental illness (“Raise awareness of realities mental illness sufferers' face”; Wednesday 5th Oct 2016).  I applaud her for her candid views and am in full agreement with her that awareness and open discussions on mental illness are elusive.  This attitude has to change if we want to work towards giving every citizen equal opportunities with a meaningful purpose in life.

It is not just teens who are vulnerable to mental health issues like eating disorders and depression, but the elderly, as well as caregivers of the mentally ill who are often isolated and shunned.  Mental illness must never be viewed as a ‘shameful’ illness, but unfortunately, this is the case because of a lack of understanding and fear are the biggest obstacles to those who have to struggle with mental disorders. Both the sufferers and their caregivers are pleading for acceptance.  Can we not hear their cries for help?

When someone who has been working for decades loses his/her job, they lose key social support and with no fixed monthly income and friends disappearing into thin air, they are likely to fall into depression. This is magnified when they have been caregivers for decades where the risk of suicide is high after they have lost their spouse, for grieving can take years to heal. The reality is that when a depressed person has attempted suicide, he/she is likely to do again if the vital support structure is weak.  I am speaking from real life experiences.

Added to these woes, if a caregiver has chronic illnesses and is unable to receive the much- needed support – be it in terms of financial assistance or home help services when he/she is not able to afford it, they will find life worthless.  This is the grave situation I am in, with cataract formation in both my eyes.

I am not eligible for the pioneer generation package with just 6 months short of receiving its benefits; unable to receive any form of financial assistance from the Silver Support Scheme and the monthly financial assistance scheme from the Catholic Church of the society St Vincent De Paul (SVDP) has been stopped after my wife died. The reason given by the SVDP is that the assistance given to me in the past was because my wife was mentally ill.  But does the SVDP not know that the grief I am enduring for more than 2.6 years has triggered a relapse of my depression? 

In today’s developed societies, the mass media is a powerful tool that can impact public perceptions of mental illness.  Inaccurate or incomplete information in the media on mental illness will lead to false beliefs confusion, conflict, and delays in receiving treatment.

That said, I applaud MediaCorp for producing the TV drama “Left behind” where the reality of depression and the toll it takes on sufferers are highlighted. More such shows should be produced. More awareness can be raised through social networks like HAPPY TV. 

In addition, all mental health providers and government agencies should embrace those who are ever willing to share valuable life experiences through talks and not see it as extra work.

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S – 43.8 million, or 18.5% experiences mental illness in a given year. Must we wait for the figures here to equal that in America before we act – swiftly and decisively?     

As the world celebrates World Mental Health day this October, please spare a thought for those who cries for help go unheard.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

Model caregiver 2007 & Mental Health Champion 2010

Footnote:  You might want to read this as well:

More seniors in Singapore taking their lives


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