Monday, February 25, 2019

Public Suggestion: Introduce mental health education in schools

25th February 2019

Mr Ong Yue Keng

Minister for Education


Dear Mr Ong,
Besides our suicides increasing, there has been a rise in the number of persons grappling with mental health issues here in Singapore.

If you had read the report in the Sunday Times “Breaking the silence on suicide”, (Sunday, February 24, 2019) you will read of how Ms Elaine Lek spoke painfully of the tragic loss of her son through suicide in October last year.  Ms Lek asked why sex education can be taught in schools, but nothing on mental illness is taught.

Research has revealed that 90 percent of people with mental disorders begin to develop symptoms of mental disorders during their teenage years.

In addition, 13 percent of children under the age of 18 have several mental conditions such as anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and disruptive behaviour. 

Society has to learn to accept that mental illness will be part of an increasing complex urban lifestyle. But the good news is that like any other illness, most mental illnesses can be controlled and managed. With love, understanding and early medical treatment, it is possible for many mentally ill persons to lead perfectly normal lives.

Bottom line:  We need to manage mental illness, before it manages us. 

I share the view of Ms Lek that if sex education is taught in our schools, so why not include mental health education.  A big YES:  We need to include mental health education in the curriculum as well.

Although in the U.S. mental health education is in its experimental stage, the good news is that in a few selected state schools, the results are promising.

Part of the education on mental health can include stories of persons who have mental health conditions and have turned their lives around with a positive attitude.

A holistic approach where doctors, patients and caregivers share insightful peeks into their journeys can prove most useful to students and even their parents.

Additionally, teachers who are under pressure themselves to secure good results from the students, will benefit from such true-life stories. 

I am sure with the right mindset, we can remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and raise more awareness of some of these conditions that could include depression, schizophrenia and bipolar.

The schools can either have daily classes or weekly classes on mental health education?

That said, I urge the Ministry of Education (MOE) to kick-start mental health education in a few selected schools as a pilot project – and when there favourable results, take it to the next level by introducing a mandatory mental health curriculum nationwide. 

With you helming the MOE, Mr Ong, I can see positive and bold changes taking place.

To this end, Minister, I hope you will give my suggestion some fair consideration.  

Thank you for your time – and I look forward to hearing from you, soon, Mr Ong.


Have a nice day.




Got a reply from the Education Minister today, Monday 4th  March 2019, on my proposal to include mental health education in schools. Here is his reply...

 "Dear Mr Fernando
Thank you for your suggestion to introduce mental health education in schools. It is helpful feedback as we continue to strengthen our current mental health education efforts.
MOE’s mental health education efforts include teaching students the social and emotional skills to handle the demands they face in their daily life, as part... of the curriculum. They learn to understand common mental health conditions and how to take helpful actions. Teachers and students are also taught to identify signs of distress among the students, and be supportive.
We will continue to strengthen our efforts to raise awareness, reduce stigma and provide mental health support to our students. We appreciate the support of parents and members of the community like yourself in this important area of work."

Ong Ye Kung
Minister for Education



Thursday, February 14, 2019

Vital to keep the communication lines open

The Catholic News has called on Catholics to give their opinions on how the church is reaching out in this digital age and how they can improve to serve Catholics better in the column “YOUR OPINION MATTERS.”  Here’s my response to them.




Raymond Anthony Fernando


Vital to keep the communication lines open

Although the clergy have a heavy workload, it is crucial that they keep the communication lines open so that healthy relations can be built with their parishioners.

With emails, and the new digital age, a reply can be given within minutes, yet, sadly, this is rarely done.

Even in government agencies, when useful suggestions and ideas are presented that can help improve the lives of our citizens, regrettably, in most instances, responses are not forthcoming. 

As a result of which, people who make the effort to write in whether to our priests or other organizations get de-motivated.

As Christians, we are all called to be Saints so if any Catholic is seen to be working towards that goal, it will be helpful for our priests to give some encouragement. A simple note such as “Thanks for sharing.”

Another disturbing trend is that when matters are raised both at clergy level or in other organizations, it is so often viewed as ‘complaints’ when it should be seen as feedback. For constructive feedback helps to improve service levels and a reply ought to be given.

When parishioners are aware that the priests take a vested interest in the well-being of their flock, a strong bond will be built – thereby improving their relationship with God.

In closing, let us be inspired by what John Joseph Powel, a Jesuit priest and author once said:

Honest, open communication is the only street that leads us into the real world. We then begin to grow as never before. And once we are on this road, happiness cannot be far away.” 


Raymond Anthony Fernando


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Public suggestion: CPF Payouts: Adapt, exercise flexibility and change

The Central Provident Fund Board has decided that payouts to CPF account holders will automatically be extended to 70 years unless the account holder informs the board that he/she desires to withdraw the savings at 65 years old.
This has to caused many account holders to feel upset as they are looking forward to their retirement funds for various reasons, some of which include providing for their key social support and even taking that long overdue holiday.
Communication is vital to keep everyone well informed so that they do not miss out on government schemes that is beneficial to our citizens.
When we have information on government schemes that can be helpful to support the elderly or for that matter anyone, we need to, as part of active citizenry, to share it.
Let’s understand that not everyone is internet savvy and have access to the media.  These people could include the elderly sick who are in nursing homes, seniors who do not have handphones or are unable to use them, prisoners serving time and those with special needs.
How much effort is being made to reach out to this group?
Surely, our grassroots leaders can make an attempt to visit them and explain the new ruling.
Additionally, the payout at 65 is only $500 per month. A friend of mine who is reaching 65 in a few months’ time rushed down the CPF Board yesterday to fill up the required form to secure his payout at the age of 65.  
He was shocked to be told by the CPF staff that only $500 will be given each month even though he has a healthy sum in his account. He is appealing for a larger payout.
Moreover, in making such a ruling, work pressure increases on the CPF staff as the number of people visiting the CPF Board is increasing by leaps and bounds daily. When work pressure mounts, mistakes and service levels can take a beating. A case in point is the recent service lapses by SingPost which has led to them now hiring 100 postmen as they embark on a fresh image-building programme.
Let’s get real.
With today’s cost of living skyrocketing, it is impractical for a retiree to manage his daily living on such a meagre monthly payout of $500.
Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world and many of our citizens are finding it so hard to cope. It was also reported in the media that expatriates are leaving Singapore as they too can’t cope with the high cost of living here.  
While efforts are being made to make Singapore a lively city, the government of the day must also ensure that its citizens have affordable living and also not to drive away investors.  
I therefore urge the Singapore Government, in the interests of elderly Singaporeans, to adapt, and exercise flexibility on the CPF payout scheme.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Reaching out with the power of unconditional love: My Valentine’s Day article 2019

Love is not always about boy-girl relationships, it has to be much more than that.
This Valentine’s Day, I will put a spin to the love celebration by giving unconditional love to several groups who include children, those with special needs and the lonely elderly?  
In many parts of the world, millions of people face severe financial problems and encounter natural disasters that causes havoc where lives and property are lost –in such a cruel way.
I have learnt so much about compassion, empathy and kindness through my family, especially my late mother, Mr Pearl Fernando late wife, Doris Lau youngest brother – Terence; and through the wonderful support of a few kind friends who not only support my books, but give me lots of encouragement.   
As caring citizens, we need to look out for one another and if we have a skill – share it.
For myself, in particular, I use the ‘power of the pen’ to help those in need and those who struggle with illnesses, and especially those who have life-threatening illnesses. The key word is INVOLVEMENT.  
It’s not possible for me to save the whole world, but just imagine if every one of us do our part to give love and support to one another, we can score up there as God is the ‘Silent Listener.’
It takes 30 days to build a tank, but 30 years is needed to build a man.
Recently, I bumped into a neighbor of mine and was shocked to see him looking so thin and haggard. He was totally despondent and discouraged as life has been very hard on him.  I gave him lots of encouragement, got some details of his plight and assured him that I would write to our Member of Parliament (MP) and his compassionate Constituency Director.
Within a jiffy my neighbour received a phone call from the   Constituency Director assuring him that help will be rendered. My neighbour was so uplifted as a ‘Ray of Hope’ was on the horizon!
Education is foundational: That is what my parents instilled in all their 6 children.   My mother loved all her children and when dad lost his job through a near fatal accident, mom worked tirelessly as a washerwoman to put ‘food on our table.’ These are just one of the memories of mom that so often brings tears to my eyes.  
As a staunch advocate for the needy, inspired by the nourishment and love which I received from my late wife for 40 years, I now focus on reaching out to the poor and needy in and out of Singapore.
As I celebrate my 69th birthday come 14th February 2019, I would like to make every effort to improve the lives of people across many lands. 
Some of the goals I would like to accomplish during my twilight years include:
♦ Teaching poetry to children in the orphanages within Singapore and abroad – such as in Calapan City, one of the provinces in the Philippines.
I would be more than happy to train people such as drug addicts, prisoners serving time and Filipinos to write their own stories so that these citizens too will be able to build a writing career for themselves. I believe everyone of us has a book inside of us, especially those who are going through challenges in life.
Book writing cannot bring tons of money, but once you have a writing skill, you can slowly but surely build a career and contribute to the literary culture of the country you live in.
♦ Give motivational talks on mental illness, specifically on schizophrenia and depression all over Singapore, and in some ASEAN countries, such as Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia where mental illness is growing – by leaps and bounds.
 I hope that Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs) will partner me to works towards this goal.
These somewhat ambitious plans of mine will not be easy to achieve, but it’s still possible given the “never-day die” attitude in me, coupled with Divine Inspiration from the Good Lord.
Happy Valentine’s Day 2019 folks!
Raymond Anthony Fernando

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Raymond’s letter to Today Newspaper: Recognise older NSmen to spur younger ones


My letter to MediaCorp’s Today newspaper on the above subject was published on Monday 13 May 2013


The “NS committee to look into servicemen’s aspirations (May 9) will be exploring ways to sustain commitment to National Service among a younger generation, and I am responding to its call for suggestions.


First, many of your youngsters worry about securing jobs after completing NS, more so when they have to compete with foreigners.


Performance assessments by their respective commanders could thus be given to employers, to encourage NSmen to give their full commitment to the State.


Second, the first generation of NS men who took their training seriously could be invited to serve as mentors to younger NS men through inspiration talks and workshops. A token sum could be paid to these mentors for their time and effort.


Younger NSmen would be motivated to perform well if they see the Government recognising the sacrifices and contributions of the older generation of NSmen.


Perhaps, beter medical subsidies could also be given to NSmen once they hit the age of 50, given Singaporeans’ concern over the rising cost of living and high medical fees.