Monday, April 23, 2018

Raymond's letter to The New Paper: E-scooters are a menace, ban them



My press letter to The New Paper is published today, Monday 23rd April 2018

 

I commend the civic-minded students who gave chase to a hit -and -run e-scooter rider as reported in “ITE students chase AMK hit-and-run e-scooterist” (The New Paper, April 20)

 Numerous people, young to old, have been injured in such incidents.

 

And it is most disturbing is that these e-bikers are not taking responsibility. Many of them do not properly control their devices or slowing down when there are people walking around. 

 

It is also not uncommon for e-scooter riders to suddenly whizz past people waiting at bus stops.

 

I myself was almost knocked down by e-scooter riders on two occasions.

 

Besides causing much distress to the accident victims and their families, the resources of the hospitals and the police are being unnecessarily stretched. 

 

 If stern action is not taken to stop this menace from maiming and killing innocent road users, our roads will no longer be safe.

 

While it may be convenient for e-scooterists to use such devices, it is most inconvenient and dangerous to other road users.

I therefore urge the authorities to consider imposing a total ban on e-scooters.

 

RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Opinion piece to The Singapore Government: Show empathy, exercise care and understanding to SMRT’s COO Al vin Kwek



Alcohol doesn't console, it doesn't fill up anyone's psychological gaps, all it replaces is the lack of God.  It doesn't comfort man.  On the contrary, it encourages him in his folly, it transports him to the supreme regions where he is master of his own destiny.”


I am saddened to read the report, “SMRT Trains COO Alvin Kek held at Woodlands checkpoint for drink driving”, April 22, 2018, The Sunday Times.

 

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult challenges to deal with. For grief comes and go, comes and go.  Some people never get over the loss of loved ones.  Even though I have lost my beloved wife one for 4 years now, I do, on occasions, still grabble with deep sadness and severe emotional pain. But I seek comfort through the power of prayer and the love from the Good Shepherd (Jesus).

 

It was reported in the press report that Kwek had recently lost his beloved father.  My deepest sympathy to him – and his family.

 

There is a British idiom which says, “The devil is in the bottle.” Basically, what it is conveying is that we should never allow alcohol abuse to take control of our lives because it can destroy us.

 

Sadly, those who are struggling to cope with stress – both at work and in personal matters may take to the bottle to ‘drown their sorrows.’ I have seen through the media reports – on television and the newspapers how COO Kwek has the unenviable task of trying to improve the running of our MRT trains, and that is by no means an easy task. Let’s exercise patience and understanding in SMRT’s on-going efforts to improve the rail system.

 

In trying to balance work stress, family commitments and alcohol consumption as a means of escapism, the SMRT management and the Transport Minister need to be mindful that prolonged grief and work-stress can so easily lead to depression. It is prudent to address this issue.

 

Jerry Kennard, a Health Professional correctly cautions that the history of depression and alcohol is both long and well documented – and that reasons for hitting the bottle range from a simple desire to lift mood to that of reaching a state of oblivion.

 

While the police have a duty to stop drink-driving, I also urge them and the authorities to exercise empathy, understanding and care in helping Alvin Kwek to better manage his present plight, and to provide him with the much-needed counselling and whatever support he needs to enable him to ‘come out of the woods’.

 

RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO

 

 

 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Opinion piece to the Singapore Government: Don’t deprive buskers the opportunity to earn a decent living: By: Raymond Anthony Fernando

 


In retrospect, I do not agree with Miss Susan Tan's suggestion that buskers should not be permitted to busk as a day job. I also do not agree with the writer that busking is a form of begging (Do not allow busking as a day job; April 17, 2018, The Straits Times).

But I fully agree with the writer that talented people should be given opportunities for exposure to showcase their performance.

Buskers help make the environment a lively place and they are earning a decent living. There are many seniors who engage in busking to earn a decent living as jobs for the elderly are hard to come by as ageism is still a thorny issue.  

Busking also known as street performing, whether it be performing magic, playing music, or even juggling, can be a great way to practice your craft and earn some serious cash.

Moreover, busking is a social activity, not an anti-social one. It is a tradition that enhances public space and deserves to be wholeheartedly supported and protected by the local authorities as well as the community.

One of the hardest things about any street show is gathering a sizeable crowd to watch buskers perform. Usually once you have 2 or 3 people watching you perform, others will be more inclined to want to stop and watch your show. You will eventually start to form a crowd and next thing you know, you will have 30 to 40 people watching you. Thus, it is important to find the right place and the right time to show the talents of buskers.

The writer should not deprive buskers the chance to earn some money to pay for daily living.  We need to be more outward looking, rather than inward looking.

Has the writer been to novena MRT station and listened to the lovely singing by an elderly Eurasian busker, who, from my conversation with him informed me that he rents a one - room HDB flat and the takings from people, helps him to pay for his rent, PUB, simple meals and other needs?

Has the writer visited the Ang Mo Kio central district where a blind lady busker sings well in Chinese to earn a living to put food on her table?

There is also an elderly man who stands and plays the harmonica at the Toa Payoh bus interchange in the evenings.

The writer should also visit the bus stop near the Orchard MRT where an elderly Chinese male makes a living by playing the saxophone.

Foreign students don’t have it easy either – as they have to pay high fees for their education here, transport, along with their daily expenses.

Music is a great stress reliever, its therapeutic, and students need an avenue to unwind.

So. let's learn to be a more caring and gracious society and give people the opportunity to earn some money and be a part of our vibrant culture.

Besides the National Arts Council. I propose that our buskers – both local and foreigners, get invitations to perform regularly at events organised by the grassroots leaders at community events.   

In closing, perhaps Miss Tan may want to open her heart and find jobs for our buskers if she is adamant that they should not use busking as a day job.

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Friday, April 13, 2018

Opinion piece: Live a life of no regrets




While reading Sean Wee’s love for his grandmother and Patrick Chua’s love for his mother who lost the battle to cancer, I was moved to tears of their unconditional love to their relatives (Send a message from beyond the grave, last Sunday April 8,2018, The Sunday Times).

 

Often, we find it awkward to reveal our heartfelt feelings to those whom we care about deeply.  Perhaps it’s our Asian culture that restricts us from being so expressive.  

 

Feelings of fear, uncertainty, denial, anger, guilt, stress, anxiety, loneliness, isolation, sadness and depression are all a normal part of the cancer experience.

 

Sharing our emotions helps to release any anxiety we may be having. It can also help improve communication between people, and to this end, I applaud former broadcast engineer Philip Tay in going public on his battle with dual cancer.  Tay is a brave man who now has the golden opportunity to express his true feelings and love to his daughter once he passes on in ZinniaAfternote’s Time Capsule through the combined efforts of Chua and Wee.

 

Knowing that a loved one has cancer gives the caregivers ample time to make advance plans and choices, that includes making a will and this service is also provided by ZinniaAfternote.

 

The reality is that life on this earth is only temporary and as a family, as a community, we should all endeavor to live a life of no regrets – more so when life is so unpredictable. Bottom line: Do as much good deeds as we can so that when we eventually pass on, our conscience will be clear and we will have no fears whatsoever.

 

The choice is ours to make.  

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

 

 

 

 

An opinion piece to The Singapore Government: Full time MPs in a better position to help the vulnerable : By: Raymond Anthony Fernando



It is troubling to read two newspaper reports of 29-year-old Muhammad Nurizam who was sentenced to 15 months’ jail last week for committing a host of offences including sexual crimes in the Tanjong Pagar area, “Serial offender jailed 15 months for theft, obscene acts, molestation”; April 11. 2018, The Straits Times and “Man jailed 15 months for theft and sex offences, The New Paper, April 11, 2018).


 

Criminal Legal Aid lawyer Mr Melvin Loh informed District Judge Mathew Joseph that Muhamad who had lower than average IQ, has a history of major depressive and exhibitionistic disorders.

 

In passing sentence, Judge Mathew Joseph displayed much empathy and called on the social welfare authorities to look into the repeat offender’s case.

 

It is a known fact that an ‘idle mind is a devil’s workshop’ and sadly, desperate times leads to people who lack support to resort to desperate measures.  Without key social support, lack of love and feeling isolated, I am not at all surprised that Mr Nurizam has to grapple with depression. More so when he was abandoned at a young age and had to sleep in the void decks.

 

This is the grave situation which many sufferers of mental illness struggle with every day of their lives. In addition, many lonely seniors are grappling with loneliness and their lives are in jeopardy.   

 

Thus, it is crucial that unflagging support comes from the community and government agencies.  We just cannot turn a blind eye to the vulnerable in our society. More so when the government leaders repeatedly give the assurance that they want to build an inclusive society where every citizen matters.

 

Perhaps it is time for our Members of Parliament (MPs) – both from the opposition wards and the ruling PAP party to go full time, rather than serve part-time. All MPs, including the Mayors and their grassroots leaders need to go on regular walkabouts to stay in touch with their constituents, to better understand ground sentiments. 

 

There are many elderly and sick residents and the mentally ill, who are unable, for one reason or the other, to attend the Meet-The Peoples’ sessions and those who are in a position to help must find it in their hearts to walk alongside them.

 

When the elected MPs are out of touch with the ground, more social problems will set in and this is happening – time and again.
Without my sounding superstitious, Friday 13 brought bad luck to me today. I went out to post office and forgot to turn off the fire on the cooker where I was cooking. Seems I am becoming very forgetful of late. The gas was on for two hours, and I’m sure my PUB bill will go up. My pots that I usually cook with had to be thrown away as it was badly burnt. (See sample of the picture I took). Fortunately, the Lord must have been watching over my home or my flat would have been burnt down.

It is just as troubling and a really sad state of affairs that my numerous cries for help has gone unnoticed.  And it is not that both my MP and Mayor are not aware of my grave situation.

 

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Updated Portfolio of Raymond Anthony Fernando




Raymond Anthony Fernando is a motivational speaker, poet, author, trainer, songwriter, freelance television actor, ghostwriter, media celebrity and a regular newspaper forum page writer.  He is a volunteer with Silver Ribbon Singapore  and the Institute of Mental Health; and is Singapore’s leading advocate for the mentally ill.   The author of 30 books was married to Doris Lau whom he groomed to become an author of 8 books.  Raymond has written on a wide range of subjects through the media and in his books, and it includes real life stories, relationships, marriage, social issues, advocacy, ghost stories, humour, children’s stories, poems, creative suggestions and spiritual content. Raymond who was chosen as Model Caregiver 2007 and Mental Health Champion 2010 is born on Valentine’s Day.  He has contributed 31 years’ service in the public sector, has 15 years’ experience in public relations work and has received several awards and commendations from government organisations.  

 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Raymond's press letter to The Straits Times: Start fund to help low-income group find jobs




 My press letter on the above matter to The Straits Times is published today, Saturday 7th April 2018.

 

Having a national conversation to find ways to help low-income Singaporeans will be useful (Call for ideas to help low-income Singaporeans; April 2).

It is estimated that by the year 2020, Singapore is expected to have a total of 188,000 millionaires.

The government with the support of these wealthy people in Singapore and philanthropists could set up a fund that could provide support to lower-income Singaporeans.

This fund can be used to help this group of people find jobs or provide them with a monthly allowance of about $200 to S300 to help them cover their meals and another $100 for transport until such time they are able to find a job.

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Initiatives to support lower-income Singaporeans: A public suggestion to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong & the Singapore Government



 
I share the view that it is useful to convene a national conversation to find ways to help lower-income Singaporeans (Call for ideas to help low-income Singaporeans; April 2, 2018, The Straits Times).

It is estimated that by the year 2020, Singapore is expected to have a total of 188,000 millionaires, an increase of 18%.  The government with the support of such wealthy people, philanthropists and Members of Parliament could set up a sustainable fund to provide that much-needed support for lower-income Singaporeans to empower them, and in the process, lift them out of poverty with dignity.  Those who are successful need to consider ‘paying in forward’.  

I suggest we name it, the National Low-Income Fund (NLIF). Through NLIF, the government can help find jobs for this group, providing them with a monthly allowance of anything between $200 to S300 to cover their meals and another $100 for transport until such time when they get a job.

Many needy Singaporeans have hardly any friends because the reality is that when you are poor, you become isolated, you are deprived of recreation and you worry about when your next meal gets on the table.

With a total of 89 MPs alone and based on their monthly allowance of $16,000, if all of them voluntarily contribute $500 a month, in one year the NLIF will have a sum of S534,000 to provide some financial support for the lower-income group here.

Separately, it is rather troubling to read of the on-going squabble between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two younger siblings (Hsien Yang: Mr Lee’s wishes not correctly represented, April 4,2018, The Straits Times)

Both Lee Hsien Yang and his sister Dr Lee Wei Ling want Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes of demolishing 38 Oxley Road to be respected and fulfilled. 

Given that PM Lee has the unenviable task of building the 4th generation leadership, such on-going squabbles is unhelpful – real or imagined. Perhaps, some compromise can be made with the house demolished, the land sold with the half of the proceeds equally divided among the 3 siblings and the other half to be handed to the NLIF to support needy Singaporeans – if there are no objections from the Lee family.   

I know for a fact that Dr Lee Wei Ling is a very compassionate person as during her tenure at the Neuroscience Centre in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, she always helped the sick and the needy.  I urge her and her brother Hsian Yang to rise to the occasion, put aside their differences with their elder brother PM Lee, and give hope to all Singaporeans.



In working towards reconciliation, let us be reminded of the positive traits of the Japanese whom during his time, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew often admired: “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something's suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” - Barbara Bloom-

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

 

 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Loving A Schizophrenic: Author: Raymond Anthony Fernando: What others say about this novel




This book is a moving and inspiring account of the difficulties faced by a couple with schizophrenia. It is wonderful to learn that ‘Daniel and Soo Mei” manage to overcome the many challenges they face to enjoy a strong and loving relationship. This book gives hope to the thousands of others who suffer from schizophrenia and encourages them to fight and overcome the stigma and disability brought on by mental illness.

 

Associate Professor Chua Hong Choon

Chief Executive Officer Institute of Mental Health (Singapore)

 

What moved me about Raymond’s book was his unfaltering devotion to Doris, even when her schizophrenia was doing its upmost to tear them apart. He is candid about the struggles, the shocks and the suffering both have to endure. Even though the illness that robbed Doris of her mind is ever present in their lives, Raymond shows that nothing can stand in the way of his love for his wife. What more touching a tribute to that love than putting it all into words? Loving a Schizophrenic is more than a love story but a support manual for all caregivers who also share their lives with mental illness.

 

Ms Elaine Moira Young

Former Journalist

The Straits Times

Singapore Press Holdings Limited

 

This book is opportune. It is a poignant and deeply moving account about what true love is all about. It demonstrates how the support and courage of a loving husband, who dares to confront all odds including sociocultural barriers, can be that powerful impetus to restore meaning and hope to “Soo Mei’s’ fragile and vulnerable life. I am deeply inspired. I trust that this wonderful life story will change your world view of mental illness, just as it has changed mine. More importantly, it should challenge all of us to dare to come forward to accept, respect and support those who are stricken with a mental condition. This is what humanity and hope is all about.

Dr Pauline Sim

Chief Executive Officer

Yishun Community Hospital (Singapore)

 

Loving a Schizophrenic depicts unconditional love and resilience to great extent, a motivational book to give strength to people who are in a similar plight and an educational book to professionals in helping industries.

 

Ms Ong Choon Ming

Former Head, Occupational Therapist

Singapore Association for Mental Health

 

This book is a testimony of Raymond’s courage and perseverance in the face of adversity. His inspiration book is a “must read” for all.

 

Mayank Parekh

Former Director of Human Resources

Merial Asia Pte Ltd

 

Raymond has been an avid writer, loving husband for his wife with schizophrenia. Above that he actively advocates for the public to understand about mental illness, the person suffering from the illness, and instill hope in patients and caregivers. THIS book will increase understanding of the illness and the help available at all levels for everyone in our society.

 

Dr Alex Su

Vice-Chairman of the medical board (clinical quality)

Consultant Psychiatrist

Institute of Mental Health (Singapore)

 

 

Loving a Schizophrenic touched me deeply as it gives a human face to sufferers of an ailment usually shrouded in shame and silence. I admire your commitment to each other and eventual courage in sharing your story with others. For me, your story was not so much to elicit sympathy for yourselves but was an effort to raise awareness among those who may be ignorant, indifferent or biased towards the mentally ill. Your story spoke of God’s love, human compassion, hope and even humour in the midst of despair. May God bless you and your very real struggle with His overcoming love, joy and rewards beyond measure.

 

Ms Phyllis H S Tan

Chief Executive Officer

Metropolitan YMCA (Singapore)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Opinion: Train those with special needs to become writers




 

It is heartening to read the report by Member of Parliament Denise Phua “Including those with special needs in our Singapore story” (Mar 25). 

 

As a member of the Committee for Enabling MasterPlan, Ms Phua being a staunch advocate for those with special needs can help a great deal to secure more support for these citizens.

 

Many people do not realise it, but people with special needs, and they include those trying to cope with mental health issues, have creative minds that require much exposure and support from the community.

Throughout life’s journey – whether in personal family matters, while studying, and then carrying out our tasks in our careers and in the community, we are bound to encounter valuable experiences that will be useful to be shared to current and future generations. Of course, there will a variety of ups and downs. There will be also exciting and adventurous periods as well as times when we are faced with challenges, and how on occasions, we have managed to overcome adversities to beat the odds.  Indeed, the passage through life is always an important learning journey.

As we mature to a ripe old age, we will have bundles of stories to tell. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that everyone of us, will in time to come, have a book inside of us.   

Those with special needs have compelling stories that if well-crafted in words will not only raise awareness of their specific conditions but will enable those trained in the art of writing to build a career.  Even former convicts who show determination to turn over a new leaf ought to be given opportunities to write their stories. 

In skills training, efforts can be made with the support of government agencies and prolific writers who can be mentors, to train people with special needs to write their stories and with the support of big-hearted sponsors, they can publish their books and contribute to the literary culture in Singapore.  Moreover, writing is a good way to heal.

 

Together, as an enlightened society, let us all do our part to build a far better society so that no one will ever be left behind.  When this is achieved, Singapore will be the best home to live, work and play in.

 

RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO

 

 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Opinion: Exercise sensitivity when addressing people, discussing marriage and child-bearing




 
It is a common practice among Asians to address people unknown to us, as auntie or uncle (Me? I’m no auntie, call me an uncle, see if I care; last Sunday– 18 March 2018, The Sunday Times).

 

This auntie and uncle-dom is probably done out of respect, but perhaps if the person is younger it is better to call them brother or sister. 

 

It is true that during the Chinese New Year festival, the probing questions would often be about marriage and child-bearing.  Most couples would want to have children after they get married to grow the family tree.  Certainly, the arrival of a baby is the most delightful, wonderful and incredible event in a married couple's life.   

 

However, there will newlyweds who would want to focus on building their careers first.  There will also be the issues of financial and energy resources being challenged.  Who is going to look after the baby when both partners are busy at work?  Will the in-laws want to help out in babysitting?  All these matters need to be ironed out before the couple sign on the dotted line. 

 

There could also be women who may have problems conceiving a baby? Despite several advances in fertility treatments, many couples still remain unable to have any children of their own.

If people, relatives included, keep on asking why the wife does not have children, there is a tendency that the woman can becoming depressed and feel she is not worthy to be a good wife.  That is when the relationship with her husband become shaky. For there are couples who break up, blaming childlessness as the cause.

As marriage and child-bearing are personal and private matters, we need to be mindful in expressing our views as we need to be able to understand the feelings of young courting couples, as well as those who are starting out as husband and wife. 

 

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Children need guidance from parents and schools on handphone usage: An open proposal to the Minister for Education & the Singapore Government



The handphone is a useful communication tool in a globalised and digital world, and therefore it is important for children to network and learn what is happening in other countries (When to give your child a phone; last Sunday, March 11, 2018, The Straits Times).
Social media and the internet provides vast information which can help people understand each other’s culture and way of living. Through this learning journey, children with proper guidance and the right attitudes can easily get involve in charity work and contribute as useful members of society.

Communication is important to build strong relationships and therefore it would not be right to deprive kids of handphones as parents also need to keep in touch with them.  But discipline on the phone usage is necessary to prevent exploitation of kids.

We must be mindful that with technology advancing at such a fast pace, pornography is now finding its way into handphones and other social networks.   So, while parents are closely monitoring their children's computer usage at home, smut could be downloaded into children and teens' cellphones, without their parents knowing about it, thanks to easier and cheaper internet access. 

With computer games so easily available, children and even adults can become victims of game addictions, and when this happens, they will neglect their studies.

To this end, it is crucial that parents and schools become the first line of defence to manage exploitation of young minds. To begin with, it may become necessary to restrict the time children spend on the internet and handphones, and where possible a password by the parents can be used for kids to access the computer or the handphone.

Next, schools should invite the police and professionals from the addiction department of the Institute of Mental Health to give educational talks to children/students in the presence of their parents during the regular parents-students meetings.
Raymond Anthony Fernando

 



Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Opinion: Cancer is such a pain





A forum writer, Jeremy wrote to The Straits Times today, Wednesday 14 March calling for support/jobs for cancer patients as he spoke candidly about his own battle with this deadly disease.

 

Indeed, cancer is costly, far too costly – financially, emotionally and physically.  Besides the patient going through enormous pain and suffering, their immediate relatives who could include their spouse, children and siblings will also have to struggle with uncontrollable emotions as they feel helpless.

 

When patients are hit by this life -threatening illness, they feel that they are unable to manage or control changes caused by cancer or normal life activities. The end result is that they become distressed and will most likely fall into depression.  Stress has become increasingly recognised as a factor that can reduce the quality of life of cancer patients.

 

Some 20 years ago, my wife and I were often awakened early in the morning to the painful groaning of an elderly man who lived opposite our block on the upper floors. We lived on the 5th storey.  It was so pitiful hearing his daily cries.

 

Then one morning, we heard a loud thud on the floor of his block. The man committed suicide. I guess the pain he endured was just too much for him to bear.

 

There are several types of cancer treatment that is available here. Some patents may need just one treatment for their cancer.  Depending on how advance the cancer has grown, some patients may require a combination of treatments that includes surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation. External beam radiation therapy is used to treat many types of cancer. Brachytherapy is often used to treat cancers of the head and neck, breast, cervix, prostate, and eye. Systemic radiation therapy is most often used to treat certain types of thyroid cancer.

 

My sister-in-law, Bridgette who is married to my twin brother Roy was fortunate because her breast cancer was successfully treated with radiation therapy.  In many ways, the stress of taking care of her husband and her son who has a bipolar condition, added with her own clinical depression took a heavy toll on her plus her family.

 

Psychologists, psychiatrists and those in mental healthcare don’t have it easy and their stress levels can skyrocket given that everyday in their line of work, they have to listen to the problems of the mentally ill, and at times, from their caregivers.

 

Dr. Joe Kahl, the Chief of Psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente (USA) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  After going through a set of treatments, he thought that he was cured of the deadly disease.  But he was so wrong.  The cancer returned and Dr Kahl was given only a few months to live.  With kids to support in college, the doctor who was under 50 years could not face his friends.  Devastated, he questioned why he had to suffer such a fate when he had maintained a healthy lifestyle and trusted in God.

 

"I often wonder why I got cancer.  I had been good.  I never smoked.  I watched my diet. I exercised.  I do not drink excessively.  Never took drugs.  I pray every day and attend church service.  From all signs I had been living a model life.  So, why me? Why me?" the despondent doctor questioned.

There has never been a satisfactory answer to suffering.  Human beings suffer because there is no other way to mature and grow.  But it is only through suffering that we can become more aware.  Certainly, awareness is the key.   

Awareness on   any issue, including death is useful. For instance, while cancer can cause much suffering, the good news is that it prepares us for death. We know that sooner or later we will be gone from the face of the earth. That is when relatives and the patient can plan well ahead on what to do, such as sale of property sharing and monies among immediate relatives, buying of a niche in a columbarium, making a will etc.

My late wife’s parents both died of cancer. Doris’ father, Lau Pai Tee had cancer attack his brain, and within two days of admission into a nursing home, he passed away peacefully. His was a quick death.  Her mother, Sim Bak Eng on the other hand had to battle cancer of the stomach for some time, but being the doting mother that she was to Doris never revealed that the lump in her stomach was cancerous – even though Doris kept probing her mom on the unusual growth.

Her dad’s passing was not too big a blow to my wife, but when news broke out that her mother was dying of cancer in Mount Alvernia Hospital, her relapse of schizophrenia came fast and furious. More so when she could only see her mom in hospital, but could not engage in conversation as the cancer caused extensive damage to her body. Her mother loved her dearly and she burst into tears when the nurse handed Doris a bunch of grapes. Her mother knew that grapes was her daughter’s favourite fruit. The grapes that her mother left for Doris was an invaluable gift to cement her love for her beloved daughter.  That tore Doris’ mind and heart apart.

The healthcare staff comprising of the doctors and nurses at the hospital were understanding and tried their best to comfort my wife.  When I rushed down after a company event, they were accommodating and allowed me to be with Doris and my mother-in-law even though it was past the normal visiting hours. They felt our pain.

During the funeral service, Doris never stopped crying and I knew that it was just a matter of days when Doris had to be hospitalised where Electro Convulsive Treatment (ECT) had to be administered.

At the wake, relatives, neighbours and friends lined up to pay their respects to Doris' mother and family.   I knew that we had to go through this mourning period together.  Reflecting on that time, I think my most helpful contribution was being fully involved – sharing her grief, crying together and holding each other.  I remember how uncomfortable I felt wearing clothes made out of gunny sacks.  But I tolerated the discomfort because I had to give my wife the vital support during those most depressing moments. 

For a couple of years Doris could not get over her mother's death.  Whenever a Buddhist funeral wake was held near our block or when the hungry ghost festival began, she would start feeling depressed.  The chanting of prayers reminded her of her own mother's passing. 

I stood by my wife all the 8 months that was needed to bring her to a full recovery.  It was yet another difficult journey in my life.

Indeed, cancer is such a pain.
Raymond Anthony Fernando

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

On-going public education on mental illness vital to remove stigma; media needs to be sensitive to persons grappling with mental health issues: An open article to the Singapore Government



 

While I agree that many people – youths included, have the tendency to give unfair labels to persons struggling with mental health issues – ‘Crazy, weird, scary’: Survey unveils negative labels youths associate with mental illness (March 12, TODAY newspaper), it’s just as important, if not more important, that the media is sensitive to the mentally ill and her caregivers.

 

Next month, April 17 will mark the 4th year that my late wife, Doris Lau, who battled schizophrenia for 44 long years has passed on. Doris recovered from the illness and went on to author 8 successful books.  She was brave enough to allow me to tell her life struggle with the illness in the media, with one goal: To de-stigmatise mental illness and give a ray of hope to these marginalised citizens Does she not have economical value?  

The media has the ability to sway people’s thinking, so it has to present different perspective on this delicate subject.  Headlines which captures the mentally ill in bad light should never be allowed, and I would like the ministers in the information ministries and health to advice and counsel journalists to be mindful of what they put out. And to give me a reply because I am going public on this.  It’s an irony that while the Ministry of Health is doing its utmost to eradicate discrimination and stigma, the media companies like Today newspaper is doing the opposite.

Does Today newspaper fully understand that labelling and unfair criticism of patients trying to cope with mental illness is due to lack of education on mental illness. Bottom line: People fear what they don’t understand.

 

The truth of the matter is that many people – young and old who have sought treatment are on the road to recovery, with some of them having the courage to become staunch advocates.  Advocacy will not only create awareness of these often not-talked about issues, but can be instrumental in changing mindsets.

 

Some years back, a lady friend told me that in a game show on a TV programme 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 having a mental illness as the most shameful thing to reveal.  So, I am not at all surprised that people feel ashamed to have a mental illness.

 

Generally, there is a lack of education among Asians on mental illness and most of them will not admit that they are afflicted with the illness.  This unwillingness to be associated with mental illness is perhaps, understandable given that there is so much social stigma within the community towards mental illness.

 

Perhaps the culprit behind the happy faces of those suffering from depression or other types of mental illness is FEAR.  Due to fear, people have been suppressing their own unhappiness, emotional pain, worries and sorrow.  And due to the lack of support from those whom they are in close contact with, be it family, office colleagues or even employers, people struggling with mental illness in this negative environment tend to have very low and damaging self-esteem.  They fear that they are not good enough to move on in life.  They suffer from low self-confidence and left unchecked can lead to dire consequences.

 

Trapped in these circumstances, the mentally ill feel unworthy and become increasingly sensitive to people’s comments and language.  Fear causes them to bottle up their feelings and with no one to give them the much-needed emotional support, their mental health suffers.  When there is no avenue for them to pour out their pent-up emotions, the bubble that is growing inside of them bursts. In worse case scenarios, they lose the will to live.

 

Dealing with people with depression and those with other types of mental illnesses requires a lot of understanding, patience and compassion.  These virtues are needed to help people with depression unlock the emotional pain in their hearts and if they are able to do so with love and understanding at an early stage, then they will be able to move on in life and contribute to their well-being, those around them and to society. 

Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia are hallucinations, depression and also fear. When fear overpowers them, patients who default on their medications may believe that people are trying to harm them, and thus become defensive.

The Institute of Mental Health and some mental health VWOs has been working very hard to de-stigmatise mental illness through public education – taking a holistic approach by bringing in doctors, patients and caregivers to present real-life situations and coping skills which can help a great deal to enlighten the public and eventually remove the stigma that plagues the mentally ill.  There are also books that speaks of amazing recovery of patients with mental illness.

I encourage one and all to be involved in these matters as everyone of us has a one percent chance of getting the illness, at some point in our lives.

Last, but not least, I want an assurance from the Singapore government that such negative reports will become a thing of the past – more so when efforts are being given by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat that his goal and that of the government is to build a caring and inclusive society.  

So, let’s walk the talk, shall we?

 

RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO

 

 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The candles will burn bright –for two nights: A farewell poetic tribute to Siva Choy



 
He was a man of many talents whom we all love and adore

Siva, your music, your brand of humour always brings much joy to

Singapore shores

The CD “Why U so like Dat?”  which you were a part of Siva, was a smash

hit

My family had barrels of laughter listening to this CD, day in, day out, bit by

bit

 

It was only last week, Siva that I was listening to The Dew – your hit song

And it breaks my heart to hear that you are now gone

When I heard the sad news, I just could not sleep

Then, silently, I began to weep

Like all Singaporeans, my heart is filled with sorrow

For this lovely jovial man – will not be there tomorrow

 

Siva, by his wacky-styled Singlish always cared

He wanted humour to weave into our lives, so his jokes, he always shared

With Siva’s passing, the lives of his beloved wife, Illsa Sharp and other

relatives now take a different turn

But the lighted candle in my home for two nights, will burn

 

Although Siva, from this earth, may be gone,

But his music, his love for mankind will live on and on

It is some consolation that he left us in peace

Siva, our love for you will never cease

 

I know for sure, Siva, you will be in God’s home

For you will be among the finest, and you will not be alone

 My deepest condolences to you, Illsa Sharp and all family members

Siva, your caring nature is a virtue that everyone remembers

 

Sincerely,

 Raymond Anthony Fernando

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