It is troubling to read reports of how a couple had systematically abused and caused grievous hurt to 26-year-old Annie Ee Yu Lian for 8 months, which eventually led to her death (“14, 16.5 years’ jail for couple who tortured tenant to death”, December 1, 2017, MediaCorp’s TODAY Newspaper).
Ee had borderline intelligence and the couple knew about her condition.
The vulnerable in our society who include those with mental illness need far better protection and support.
To this end, I would like to propose some suggestions to help improve the structural support for this marginalised group.
Appoint Estate Mental Health Ambassadors (EMHA) to serve in the respective estates.
♦ Firstly, I propose we train suitable people in the neighbourhoods on mental illness by well-established mental health providers who could include professionals from the Institute of Mental Health, Silver Ribbon Singapore and the Singapore Association for Mental Health. After they are trained, they can be appointed as Estate Mental Health Ambassadors (EMHA) to serve in the respective estates.
These trained EMHAs whose contact numbers can be given on HDB notice boards, community clubs and on a given website can be contacted to help anyone grappling with mental illness.
It must be made abundantly clear to both the EMHAs and the person/s being helped that patient confidentially will be respected at all times.
As it is difficult to secure volunteers, an allowance can be given to the EMHAs for their time, efforts, meals and paper work every time they handle a case. The funds can come from the community clubs and all cases must be handled with privacy and confidentially on the person being helped. Once a case has been handled professionally, the EMHA submits a simple report to the grassroots leader to make a claim. Such allowances can also come from any charity or organisation that supports mental health.
Vital to ensure psychiatric patients don’t default on their medical appointments /medications
♦ Secondly, mental health providers need to ensure that those with mental health issues keep to their medical appointments and counselling. For example, the Community Psychiatry Department of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) must constantly keep in touch with patients so that they do not default on their treatments and medications. If need be, part-timers with some basic knowledge of mental illness can be hired by IMH, with funds provided by the Health Ministry.
(a)Tie-ups between HDB, MSF and MPs/Mayors
♦ Whenever a registered flat owner takes in a tenant, it is compulsory that the HDB is informed. Therefore, my third proposal is that both the HDB and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) are kept duly posted when the flat owner rents out a room to anyone with any vulnerable condition. In doing so, the tenant with special needs can be closely monitored by MSF, and abuse can be prevented. The respective Member of Parliament (MP) and Mayor can be kept informed.
(b) MPs and Mayors need to stay connected to residents
♦ Last, but not least, it is important for Members of Parliament, Mayors and their grassroots leaders to stay in touch with the residents so that they are in a good position to understand sentiments on the ground. They can do this either through quarterly home visits or tea or breakfast sessions at the nearest void decks where the residents live. This is also an opportune time for the elected officials to get to know the residents better – and to explain government policies and directions, if any.
RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO