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?





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


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



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



 Raymond Anthony Fernando


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Provide more funds for VWOs on mental health education & support: A compassionate appeal to the Finance & Health Ministers for Health

5th March 2018

As correctly pointed out by Ms Ho Wen Qi, people trying to cope with mental illness have been unfairly labelled with all sorts of degrading names (Mental health awareness starts with being inclusive; Feb 28, 2018, The Straits Times). Some of these other demeaning names include calling them, psycho, siow, freak.

Although public education on mental illness has been undertaken periodically in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough – as it ought to be. Generally, awareness of mental health issues is highlighted during the month of October, which is when mental health day is celebrated. 

But given that stigma and discrimination occur almost daily, it is imperative that more public education has to be carried all year round and reaching to every sector of the population.

Clearly the mass school shooting in Florida could have been avoided if proper measures and support were in place. An educational campaign is needed to counter the idea that people with mental illness are violent murders by presenting statistics revealing that homicide rates are similar among people with mental illness and the general public.

Silver Ribbon Singapore has been doing good work by conducting talks, forums and campaigns on mental illness, but just like the other mental health voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) such as Club Heal, it is in dire need of funds and resources. To this end, it is important for the supporting ministries to assist these VWOs with the much-needed funds. They need funds and resources to pay for a suitable venue with a PA system and equipment in place, payment for both speakers and part-timers to assist in the events, along with money for refreshments.

Some of the most brilliant and creative minds are people who struggled with mental illness and they include Sir Winston Church Hill, Vincent van Gogh and John F Nash, Jr.

We also have success stories of Singaporeans who have overcome mental illness and gone on to contribute positively to society, some of whom have become staunch advocates. They are the right people to combat stigma and change mindsets.

With Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s assurance at the recent budget package that the government is committed to building a caring society, I hope the mentally ill and their caregivers can see a ray of hope. We need to build strong minds that can so easily translate to strong lives.  


Raymond Anthony Fernando