Sunday, December 31, 2017

Article: Service to mankind, as I go on the campaign trail

Mental illness struck close to my heart and the next logical step was to advocate better rights for the mentally ill.”

-  Raymond Anthony Fernando -

 “You’re a talented person, Raymond and you can be very successful.  But you have a lot of obstacles in life, so you have to very careful,” predicted Tania (not real name), an attractive Taiwanese lady who could foretell a person’s future. 


“Obstacles?  At work or in my personal life, Tania?” I probed.


“Both, my dear, both.  But you can overcome them, Raymond.  Your strength is your resilience.  And one day, you will go on to be of great service to mankind,” Tania concluded.


“Service to mankind?” I wondered what that statement meant.


Tania would call over every week at the TV station where I worked and we soon became good friends.  I would always have a warm smile for her and she would do likewise.


Tania’s prediction mirrored that of another colleague.  


“Raymond, look, look at the many lines on your palm!  You will face many difficulties in life, even though you are a talented and hardworking individual,” cautioned Mohan (not real name), a producer.

I have faced death right smack in the face in 1995 over a failed suicide attempt, but I am glad I survived.  Perhaps my survival gave me the strength to be a “voice” for the thousands out there who are suffering in silence.  Or perhaps, it was a mission that I was fated to undertake.

And having seen the growing number of people, both foreigners and locals lose the will to live, I decided to start lobbying for better support for the mentally ill and their caregivers as far back as 2005.  In fact, it was the birth of my novel, “Loving a schizophrenic” that spurred me on to write to the media and raise awareness of mental illness and to seek better support for psychiatric patients. 

On Friday night, 6th March 2009, Mr Zhou Zheng, a Chinese national from Hubei, was found hanging in the balcony of his apartment at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) – just five days after Mr David Hartano Widjaja, another foreigner leapt to his death.   These incidents are scary. 

People who are lonely or isolated and cut off from their loved ones can fall into depression.  This is also the case of our senior citizens who lose key social support after they have retired.  There were many cases of the elderly falling into depression and committing suicide in 2008.

Singapore's suicide expert Dr Chia Boon Hock who has spent 40 years collecting and studying suicide data, mentioned in an exclusive interview with the Straits Times on 22nd April 2009 that there have been four major suicide peaks in Singapore over the past 100 years.  Dr Chia is concerned that the current recession may see more people committing suicide.  He feels that suicide is a sad reflection of society's failure to help those that desperately need help.  I fully agree with Dr Chia. 

Though advocating for the mentally ill is a seemingly thankless task, somebody has got to speak out for these neglected citizens.  Perhaps it is because I have seen how schizophrenia and depression has ravaged my wife’s life that I have this on-going passion to speak up for both psychiatric patients and their caregivers, many of whom are suffering in silence. 

Besides writing to the media, I have gone on national television ten times and on radio 11 times –  to create more awareness of schizophrenia and speak of the pain of looking after a loved one struggling with this horrifying illness.  On four of these TV programmes, Doris was also brave enough to talk about her battle with this brain disease. In addition, I was also interviewed by students from polytechnics and volunteers who show a keen interest in mental illness. 

I have been uplifted by the encouragement that I have received from so many people. 

“Raymond, you are a staunch advocate.  You are a “fighter” who is brave enough to write to the press even before the media contacts you. I have read practically all your letters to the forum pages in the Straits Times, New Paper, Today and the other newspapers and I'm truly impressed by your compassion for others.   That is what makes a true advocate,” Tammy, one of my faithful readers told me. 

“You are right, Tammy, I adopt a never-say-die attitude.  And it is encouraging words from people like you that keeps me pressing on,” I replied.

“Singapore will be a far better place to live in with people like you, Raymond,” one of my ex-bosses emailed me.

My journey as a advocate has garnered several commendations -  from letters and emails, including one from a 16-year-old girl who was inspired by my book (“Loving a Schizophrenic”) to pursue her interest in psychiatry.

This morning a friend who believes in my advocacy work asked me what my wish for 2018 would be. My answer:  To continue with my passion to fight for the rights of the marginalised and to become a world class writer and motivational speaker and to be able to find a producer who can convert my bestselling novel, Loving A Schizophrenic into a movie.

Let me now leave you with this inspiring poem:

Poem: No drifter, no quitter


I do not have to agonise and work for unreasonable people or bosses

For it will only end up in my having physical and emotional losses

I would rather work for mature ones

Then working life will be enjoyable and fun


Though I do not possess a university degree

God has given me eyes to see,

And a clear-thinking mind,

That has been tested many a time

I have hands to write,

So, I will excel and not give up the fight


When the chips are down,

I will not frown

All my life I have not been a drifter

I choose not to be bitter

And I am certainly no quitter


Failure can lead to success

And bring out in us, the best

I will not raise the white flag

My learning skills have brought dividends

And in acquiring knowledge,

There is never any time lag


Why do I need to indulge in self-pity?

When there are opportunities here in Singapore

Our beautiful lion city

Why do I need to bury my head in the sand?

When I can go out there and conquer with a bang

My poetry, my stories, my handful friends and my quest

These I have, and I can be the very best!




Raymond Anthony Fernando




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