The number of people grappling with mental health issues is growing by leaps and bounds. If anyone becomes a caregiver to a loved one with mental illness for the very first time, he/she will be ‘groping in the dark’ as it is no easy task trying to tackle any type of mental illness – be it depression, schizophrenia, bipolar or anxiety disorders.
A novice caregiver has to quickly learn as much as he/she can otherwise they will so easily raise the white flag. In managing someone with mental illness, the caregiver will have to exercise extreme patience, deep understanding with lots of empathy and compassion. In this day and age when life has become so stressful, providing structural support for both the mentally ill persons and their caregivers has to be put in place.
A good way to help the mentally ill person come to terms with his/her condition and help him/her in their recovery is for experience and resilient patients or caregivers to walk with them along their journey. This is why I proposed that Singapore starts a Peer Specialist scheme which has proven to be successful in America. Details of my proposal which was put up way back in 2012 is reproduced here on my blog. It was routed to the Singapore government and mental health providers.
Peer specialists needed to help caregivers of the mentally ill (Published on Saturday, July 28, 2012)
Both the Singapore Association for Mental Illness (SAMH) and the Institute of Mental Illness (IMH) saw value in my proposal and employed Peer Specialists in their respective organisations. Later, the Caregiver Alliance Limited (CAL) and CLUB HEAL also employed Peer Specialists.
Then 4 years later, I proposed we build on that Peer Specialist scheme and introduce a Caregiver Specialist scheme. Details are given here on my blog:
Public Suggestion: Introduce a Caregiver Specialist scheme to help those grappling with mental illness (Published on Saturday, January 23, 2016)
Resilient caregivers who have been instrumental in helping their loved ones or any other person cope with mental health issues ought to be accorded due recognition by way of job opportunities.
I am a very vocal person and very open about mental illness – and do not feel awkward of speaking candidly of how I helped my late wife Doris manage her schizophrenia for 40 years. Through my undying love for my wife, I managed to help her become an author of eight successful books. That is a pretty big achievement, seeing that Doris also had to grapple with advanced arthritis that left her mobility severely impaired.
I went on national TV and radio 20 times – 10 on TV, 10 on radio and it helped raise so much awareness of mental health issues and the struggles we face in a society that is yet to be acceptable to the mentally ill. Sadly, it is not just the mentally ill who are discriminated against, but their caregivers too.
But I will not be discouraged in anyway. I will continue to soldier on and help save lives. Through my counselling, often 24/7, and support for the mentally ill and their caregivers, I have saved lives, 3 of whom were at first suicidal. All 3 are now coping well.
During my career in broadcasting, I had to balance work and family life, but the demands in caregiving with lack of structural support drove me to suicide. But God saved me as He, I believe, has a mission for me.
I was able to recover through the wonderful support of my psychiatrist at IMH – the late Dr Ang Ah Ling who was also my wife’s doctor. In the course of my treatment, I asked Dr Ang why there is so much discrimination and favouritism, and he told me quite rightly that discrimination and favouritism is everywhere and I had to accept that. Impressed by my writing skills, Dr Ang encouraged to write books. This kind doctor paved the way for me to start a writing career, and today I have 30 books to my name.
I intend to go abroad to the Philippines in due course to visit an orphanage and teach English to the children there as well as educate the people there on mental illness. The organisers in a province are delighted! My advocacy work is not just limited to Singapore, but abroad as well.
It now leads me to the Straits Times article that was published on Saturday, September 9, 2017 – “Helping those with mental health issues find work.”
In the article, the National Council of Service (NCSS), the Workforce Singapore and social service organisations will be introducing an apprenticeship scheme to help people with mental illness find work. This training scheme conducted by trainers from the US is only for Peer Specialists. Why?
To be frank, I am deeply disappointed with the way things are going. On more than two occasions, I had applied for the position of Peer Specialist with NCSS and IMH. I may be 67 years old, but I had extensive experience in helping the mentally ill recover, I inspire caregivers and the general public through my motivational talks on mental illness at IMH, Silver Ribbon Singapore, at polytechnics and at times at SAMH.
When I applied for the Peer Specialist position, it was rejected and I am given the standard civil service reply: No vacancies.
Yet the very position of Peer Specialist that I proposed has enabled the recovered patients find jobs and now an opportunity to go for training through this apprentice scheme. It is not right to ‘cheery pick’ people that the organisations favours – one way or the other.
The government recognises now that you do not need a degree to get a job or move up the corporate ladder. They also are keen to find jobs for the elderly so that they can be self-reliant.
I hope NCSS and her partners will adopt fair HR practices and give equal opportunity for seniors like me to secure a peer specialist position so that I can continue to save and reclaim lives. My contributions, whether through press letters, counselling people on my own time, useful suggestions to the government and public speaking should be valued at all times.
Raymond Anthony Fernando