Sunday, January 14, 2018

Raymond A Fernando’s press letter to The Sunday Times: Empower IMH to do more for mentally ill residents


Dear all,

Do find time from your busy schedule to read my press letter, but first let me raise some relevant points.

 

Mental illness is spreading – far and wide. In Malaysia, there are less than 400 psychiatrists to treat 4 million psychiatric patients. In the Philippines, a Senator there revealed that in 2015, everyday 7 Filipinos commit suicide. In Indonesia too, there are so many citizens suffering from mental illness and due to ignorance, some of their mentally ill citizens are caged up.  I intend to visit these ASEAN countries to  educate their citizens and the authorities on schizophrenia and depression.  

 

God has given me this mission to fulfil (Be of service to mankind) so even though I face huge obstacles in wanting to educate as many people as I can, I just can’t sit there and do nothing.

 

I tried very hard to educate the residents island-wide through the 5 Mayors in Singapore on the advice of ESM Goh Chok Tong, but was unsuccessful as none responded.

 

MSF Minister Desmond Lee has called on the public to report cases of abuse when he spoke in Parliament on the cruel treatment of the late Annie Ee. But the reality is that unlike the early years in Singapore, neighbours in the heartlands these days do not mix freely. Added to that no one wants to get involved with mental patients as they are shunned.

 

I urge MSF to work closely with MOH and its partners who include IMH and the VWOs in the mental healthcare industry and the grassroots leaders for the best results. It is far better for the residents to notify the grassroots leaders on abuse cases who should then bring the matter up to their respective MP who can then tie up with the authorities.

 

Raymond A Fernando’s press letter to The Sunday Times: Empower IMH to do more for mentally ill residents

 

My press letter to The Sunday Times on the above matter is published today, Sunday 14th January 2018.

It is perfectly understandable that residents at Block 55, Lorong 5 Toa Payoh are worried about the bizarre behaviour displayed by their neighbour (Woman’s antics spark fear among neighbours; Jan 7).

She has been splashing corrosive liquids, flinging burning items over the parapet and shouting loudly in the mornings.

I believe that the woman has a mental health issue which has gone untreated.

People with severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia mistakenly believe that they have been charmed or possessed.

For those struggling with schizophrenia, religious delusions or intense religious-based irrational thinking may be a component of their symptoms.

The most commonly reported form of hallucination is auditory; involving hearing voices when no one is there.

In order for mental illnesses to be properly managed and controlled, it is vital that early treatment is given. Long delays can only make it more difficult for professionals to stabilise the patient.

The current system does not allow the community psychiatric department of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to step in to help if the individual is not a patient of the hospital.

That needs to change, as we are bound to see more cases like the one in Toa Payoh, given our fast ageing population.

It may become necessary for the woman to be given involuntary or assisted treatment, and for IMH to be empowered, under the Mental Capacity Act, to handle such cases.

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 


 

For information as well: Trailer: Raymond on podcast gives some insights into his life story.  This is only a trailer; the full podcast will be coming out soon.


 

 

 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Raymond Anthony Fernando's letter to The Catholic News: Reaching out to the elderly sick




My letter to The Catholic News (Singapore) on the above matter, was published this weekend (in advance for 2st January 2018) on page. 

 There have been several reports of seniors dying all alone – both here in Singapore and in Japan in the Straits Times (ST).

That was followed by discussions, both in the media reports as well as in the ST’s Forum page as to whether assisted suicide or euthanasia should be an option given to caregivers of loved ones to end the suffering of their loved ones going through enormous pain from life-threatening illness.

One ST commentary (“A good life to the end, or a quick death” Saturday, December, 2017) mentioned that the Australian state of Victoria recently legalised assisted suicide that permitted a patient with a terminal illness with life expectancy of less than six months to obtain a lethal drug to commit suicide. 

The commentary also cited several other countries like Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, Columbia, Luxembourg and American states such as California, Washington, Vermont and Oregon that have passed laws that allowed assisted suicides.

As a born Catholic, I do not support assisted suicide or euthanasia, but am a firm believer in palliative care and the power of prayer which has been known to create miracles. 

God gave us life, and only God can take life away from us. It is not for man to play God.

Although death is a subject which many feel uncomfortable to talk about– just like mental illness – death is very much a part of living. We all have to accept that.

As Christians, we all understand that life here on earth is only temporary, for the really good life is in heaven and that is why we must follow closely the teachings of Jesu Christ and show kindness and compassion to one another irrespective of our status in society.

When children are born, parents make so much preparations for them, that includes joyful celebrations, setting aside money for their education and even opening up bank accounts for them.

Yet when it comes to the elderly sick, many of whom live all alone, how much support and advance planning do we put in to help them lead more meaningful lives?

So, let’s not avoid discussing about end-life issues, but be open to talk about dying, and how as Christian brothers and sisters, we can rally around one another to provide that ray of light in uncertainties that can come our way.

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Singapore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Opinion: Mandatory treatment order fair, good chance for M Ravi to redeem himself




Going to jail can be traumatic. Thus, I am glad that the judge passed down the Mandatory Treatment Order (MOT) in lieu of a prison term to human rights lawyer M Ravi.

It was wise on the part of M Ravi who has bipolar to apologise to the lawyers whom he has abused – physical and emotionally and as long as he complies with the MOT, he has an excellent chance to redeem himself and reintegrate into society

 

Generally, there is a wrong perception that all persons with mental illness are violent and are trouble makers. But this can only happen when they do not seek treatment or have defaulted on their medications and treatment, which includes counselling.

 

But with proper treatment, M Ravi can prove to the world that he can be a useful member of society as he has a brilliant mind and is well respected worldwide for his work as a human rights lawyer.

 

Having a job will enable those grappling with mental health issues to have a meaningful purpose in life, and to this end I am pleased that M Ravi has managed to secure employment with Carson Law Chambers through the support of former National Solidarity Party Secretary General Lim Tean who is also a lawyer.

 

RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Opinion: 4th generation leaders must stay connected to the ground to win support: An open proposal to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the cabinet




It is certainly not easy to select the next Prime Minister (PM) from the 4th generation of ministers, and I do agree with Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong that this is an urgent challenge that has to be met.

 

Unlike the first-generation leaders who had to tackle and manage several burning issues such as confrontation, communists, racial riots and union strikes, the present cohorts have not yet been fully tested nor have they experienced hardship.

 

With the immense global challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead, coupled with many social issues which Singapore has to grapple with, it is crucial that our 4th generation leaders make every effort to stay connected to the ground to fully understand valid concerns, anxieties and sentiments from all Singaporeans.  

 

It is not just selecting a new leader to spearhead the team, but what is equally or more important is for the people to be able to relate well to the next PM and his team.

 

Mingling with citizens from all walks of life on a regular basis will pave the way for constructive feedback and a healthy exchange of ideas.  For active citizenry will help the government of the day to resolve problems, sometimes with gems of ideas surfacing. It is a known fact that no government can solve all problems, but with a fair exchange of ideas and suggestions from its citizens, including those from the opposition wards, Singapore has an excellent chance of making our home the best home to live in.

 

Our leaders seem to focus too much on economic growth. While economic growth is important, too fast a growth for a small country like Singapore can soon lead to a saturation point– as history has taught us in the rise and fall of countries.

 

Leaders have to go down to the ground to fully understand the real difficulties people face that includes bread and butter issues and the high cost of living. Politicians meeting residents in their homes should not just be restricted during the run-up to the General Elections, but has to be on-going.  And all ministers and MPs must be approachable and humble and so for their grassroots leaders,

 

I still recall the wisdom of former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong who advised elected PAP MPs to ‘be humble in victory’. 

Let’s take a leaf from some of our ASEAN leaders who, while adopting a non-nonsense attitude, are still able to enjoy tremendous support as they have much love for their citizens and always stay closely connected to the man in the street.

In early January 2016, the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, made a surprise visit to Muar and joined the people there for breakfast at a restaurant where he spent an hour chatting with the people.

With Indonesia having a relatively large and rapidly growing youth population President Widodo has seized the opportunity to reach out to the youth through social media.  Seeing the importance of connecting with his people, the Indonesian President has even enjoyed a lunch with many of them.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte also makes it a point to meet up with his people, both within his country and outside the Philippines.

However, meeting residents should not just be another PR exercise, but it should be a concerted effort to ensure that the needs of the people who elected the MPs are met at all times.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Article for Awaken magazine: Artificial Intelligence: Will robots replace human beings?


Dear all,

This is the next BIG thing and one that is set to stay. I have written this article for the Buddhist Temple’s newsletter AWAKEN – for the month of January 2018, and with their permission hereby reproduce the said piece.  The newsletter reaches out to 10,000 Buddhists.


Happy reading, folks.

Sincerely,

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

Article for Awaken magazine:  Artificial Intelligence: Will robots replace human beings?

The digital world, a smart nation, the emergence of machines that are programmed to think and act like human beings. That’s what’s in store in the new era.  But are moving too fast and furious towards Artificial Intelligence or AI for short?

Exactly what is AI?  John McCarthy, the father of AI puts it plain and simple: Artificial Intelligence is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.

Have you ever imagined that robots could take on the role of human beings in food courts by doing the work of contract cleaners who clear trays after diners finish their meals? 

Well, that day has arrived! Two new food courts, Happy Hawkers in Tampines and FoodTastic in Choa Chu Kang, have introduced a host of technologically-driven robots who can do the job of cleaning contractors, many of whom are senior citizens.

The objective is to allow customers to enjoy a unique dining experience that will not only allow a faster and easier way to order their meals, and hopefully put an end to a long waiting time to search for a table.

Singapore is set to become a smart nation with technological advances such as cashless transport rides and paying for meals and other services with the use of smart handphones.

In the very near future, our Lion City will see the arrival of self-driven electric cars.  How will our citizens adapt to this change when they are so used to be driven around in taxis, public buses or the MRT where there are people currently driving these?

A study in the US revealed that there will be 200 million fewer cars on the road in America by 2030 once electric cars take to the streets. Once the car population is significantly reduced, we can be assured of a polluted-free environment which in turn can help to keep people healthier.

What consumers think of AI

A global study on Artificial Intelligence revealed that while most consumers are upbeat about AI as there are much benefits which comes with this new technology, there are also fears and confusion from some quarters on how business can grow with the implementation of AI.

Despite, some valid concerns, we need to embrace AI or we will lag behind as most developed countries will take the AI route where cost savings and a cleaner healthier environment will come about.

Will the implementation of AI have an adverse effect on jobs?

AI which can save costs and improve productivity can also affect the livelihood of workers who depend on work to earn a steady income. For example, cleaners may lose their jobs as robots can be programme to clear trays and clean floors. 

Once electric cars drive around, car dealers, auto insurers and motor car repair workshops will be out of business and those in these fields will not be able to provide for themselves and their families. 

Are robots able to be sensitive to the feelings of human beings?

All too soon, robots will also be involved in healthcare, assisting patients in hospitals and nursing homes where some of the daily needs of patients such as bathing, serving meals and related matters have to be met.

But unlike the personal touch where the human touch of nurses and personalised communication is crucial to the full recovery of the sick, robots will not be in a better position to take on this role.  More so if any patient is struggling to cope with psychological or stress-related issues.

In addition, will robots be able to be sensitive to race and religion when human beings are educated and trained to do so?

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Raymond A Fernando's letter to The Strait Times: Be open to talking about death

 

My letter to The Strait Times, the very first one for this year (2018) on the above subject is published today, Wednesday 3rd January 2018.

 

What a great start to a new year to read of the kindness and compassion shown by the Nam Hong Welfare Service Society to reach out to disadvantaged seniors in Yishun and encouraging discussions on death and dying (Seniors get free portraits in bid to lift taboo about death; Jan 1). 

Death, just like mental illness, is often viewed as a taboo subject.

Yet, it is very much a part of life’s journey.

Facing up to the reality of impending death enables relatives to make early and concrete plans to ensure that their dying loved ones pass on with dignity, knowing they were surrounded with love and care before their last breath.

Some areas that require some advanced planning when a loved one is at the last stages of his or her life include preparing an obituary, writing a will, determining the distribution of assets, settling outstanding loans (if any), arranging meetings to put to bed any unresolved issues, taking note of funeral service preferences, etc.

There are hundreds of seniors who live alone and there is a dire need to reach out to them so that when they eventually die, they must never feel unloved and uncared for.

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

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!

 

Sincerely,

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando