Friday, September 22, 2017

Raymond A Fernando’s letter to The Straits Times: Let’s rally around those with mental illness




My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Friday 22nd September 2017.

I fully agree with Miss Lee Kay Yan that labelling people with mental illness and calling the police instead of linking up with the Institute of Mental Health is not the right approach to destigmatising mental illness (Be empathetic towards anyone with mental illness; Sept 20).


Even though it is a mammoth task to completely eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness, a national effort that involves healthcare agencies, the criminal justice system, the police, employers, schools, religious groups, recovered patients, resilient caregivers as well as the media can help a great deal in helping persons with mental illness gain acceptance in society.


Given that mental illness is affecting many people here, it would be timely to carry out large-scale surveys to track people’s beliefs on mental illness.


What we need is a holistic approach and ongoing education on mental illness that reaches out to the masses and is supported by all our mental health providers, the Agency of Integrated Care and the National Council of Social Service.


It must be clearly understood that mental illness is treatable with medication, counselling and psychotherapy.


Together with good support from an enlightened community, loving caregivers, and employers who offer jobs to recovered patients, there is an excellent chance that persons with mental illness can integrate back into society and live happy and meaningful lives.


World Mental Health Day is on Oct 10.


Let us rally around persons with mental illness here in Singapore and around the world to raise more awareness on mental health issues and mobilise efforts in support of mental health.



Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

Raymond A Fernando’s letter to The New Paper: Encouraging that President Halimah and NUH show concern for patients, workers



My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today, Friday, September 12, 2017
 
It is heartening to know that despite her busy schedule, President Halimah Yacob found the time to visit the patients and staff at National University Hospital (NUH) (“President praises healthcare workers, expresses support”, The New Paper, Sept 20).
 
President Halimah has always shown been supportive of those facing challenges or ill health as well as their caregivers and other workers.    Throughout her sterling public service, she has displayed much kindness and compassion to all Singaporeans regardless of their race, language or religion.  Her visit would have boosted the morale of both the patients and the workers.
 
NUH’s policy of recognising the contributions of older workers is also commendable. When patients are ill, they, as well as their relatives can be unduly worried. Not many employers retain older workers. And for many older workers, career progression comes to a halt once they hit the age of 50.
 
But it is abundantly clear that this management values workers who have the right attitudes. NUH is an enlightened employer, a trail blazer with excellent human resource practices which other employers can learn from. 
 
RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Opinion: Do the right thing – Help our helpers - By: Raymond Anthony Fernando


 

“Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.”
– Mahatma Gandhi –



The tray return programme imitated by the National Environment Agency (NEA) more than a year ago which is a good effort to promote graciousness and civic mindedness has, regrettably, not been as successful as it ought to be; and if you read the newspapers, you will understand why.

 

This programme took off the ground in November 2012 at nine hawker centres and was later expanded to include more hawker centres.  It was reported in the Chinese press –Wanbao that patrons did not want to return the trays after taking their meals because they were concerned that the cleaners – many of whom are senior citizens, could lose their jobs.  Some of the cleaners themselves are fearful of losing their jobs with the tray return programme that has been implemented  

 

Reading some of the press letters, it is true that diners are reluctant to return the trays after finishing their meals. Bernie Cheok, a forum writer to the Straits Times observed that years of appeals and education have not managed to get diners to return their trays after their meals. Cheok’s letter “Token fee can fix tray return problem” was published on Thursday 21 September.  

 

Whether it is an attitude problem or a valid concern that cleaners will be out of work is difficult to say.

 

But I personally believe these cleaners are not likely to lose their jobs – as firstly, not many people would want to do such jobs even though it is a decent way to earn a living, and secondly, these workers are in fact doing much more than just clearing trays. Whether in food courts, fast food restaurants or markets, their other duties include clearing crockery at the tray return points, and delivering these items to the dishwashing areas before redistributing cleaned crockery and trays to the individual stalls. At some fast food restaurants, I have seen cleaners even moping the floor whenever it gets dirtied.


As we take our meals, let us spare a thought for the cleaners by asking them if they have had their breakfast, lunch or dinner.  When we show respect to our hard-working cleaners, both parties gain confidence and feel good.  I often chat with the cleaners and when we treat them well, you can bring a big smile on their faces as they respond with a big thank you.  This is one way we can help those who help themselves.

 

*****

 

We definitely need to help those who help us.  Even our foreign workers need to feel valued and appreciated.  Many of them come from poor countries like India and Bangladesh. They leave their families behind to earn better wages.  It’s  a big sacrifice and I am pretty sure some of them could be grappling with separation anxiety – at least at the initial stage.  As I see them along construction sites where they build our roads and MRT, I would say a few words to them. And these are the ones, exhausted as they night be, will readily give up their seats in the MRT to those who need it most.  I have benefitted from such thoughtful gestures.

 

*****

 

Foreign students who study here could also feel all alone when they are separated from their loved ones. Some of them become depressed due to isolation. Let us show a human face and help them cope if they are troubled.

 

*****

 

Our maids provide an exceptional service to our families. They toil from dawn into the late hours at night.  Like the construction workers, they leave their families behind to earn better wages. They must be treated as part of the family. When we do so, they will go the extra mile to take care of our elderly, our children and couples who work long and draining hours.  But as with any society, there are bound to be a few ‘bad apples’, but we should not generalise.

 

Maid abuse cases have risen with 9 cases reported in the first nine months of 2016.  4 out of 10 calls made by the helpers to the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) voiced concerns of loneliness and difficulties adjusting.

 

This year, a couple who starved their maid for more than a year and caused her weight to plummet from 49kg to 29.4kg will now have to serve longer jail terms, following an appeal by the prosecution. Housewife Chong Sui Foon, 48, had her jail sentence raised from three months to 10 while her husband freelance trader Lim Choon Hong, 48, will also have to serve 10 months in jail, instead of his original sentence of three weeks in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said it so well: The couple had subjected Filipina Thelma Oyasan Gawidan to "systematic cruelty” and denial of her basic human dignity.

I am troubled that some of these helpers are so badly treated.  These helpers help us so why can't we in turn help them?

 

On the bright side, there are many employers here in Singapore – local as well as foreigners who through sheer kindness make the helpers feel so much at home by giving them good wages, off days, decent meals and a comfortable bed to rest their weary heads on. Some of these kind-hearted employers who periodically go to restaurants or hotels with their families for fine dining make it a point to invite the helpers as they regard them as part of their very own family.  Bouquets to these employers!



*****

 

There are endless typhoon and storms that plague the Philippines throughout the year. Singapore is blessed to be free from such natural disasters. But here again through these calamities, help will come to those who are willing to help themselves. It is the Buddhist Charity –Tzi Chi Foundation that rises to the occasion and gives hope when all hope seems hopeless.  The Filipinos are sort of immune to their homes and property being destroyed during the natural disasters. Through these adversities, they have become resilient with the wonderful support of the volunteers from Tzi Chi Foundation who fervently believe that it is unwise to give fish, but far better to teach people to fish.

 

With this in mind the charity came up with the programme, CASH FOR WORK where they pay the affected families a fixed sum (500 pesos or $15 per person) to rebuild their homes. This programme was so popular that it attracted thousands of Filipinos to step forward to rebuild the damaged homes.  Good karma returns like a boomerang when kind deeds are done. Delighted and happy to see their homes rebuilt through the compassion of Tzi Chi, many Filipinos are today volunteers with this charity.

 

Indeed, let’s help our helpers.

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Raymond's letter to The Straits Times: Tough stand needed to curb online venom



My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Saturday 16th September 2017
As rightly pointed out by Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah, who is presiding over a widely reported rape trial, disrespectful online comments on victims would only discourage others in similar circumstances to step forward (Judge criticises netizens for rape victim remarks; Sept 14).

While we can allow free expression and speech, there is a need to manage comments properly, otherwise vile statements posted by online bullies on the Internet or social media platforms will make us feel unsafe and insecure.

Given the anonymity enabled by the Internet, online bullies become very bold and believe it is their right to hurl abusive and hurtful comments about people or on things they dislike.
More often than not, these abusers do not put their real names or show their faces.

The damaging effects of disparaging online comments can cause psychological problems to people who are severely distressed.

I have noticed that when one commenter posts the first negative message, more negative comments and trolls will follow.

As there are thousands of nasty postings that include the use of vulgar language every day by people whose identities are unknown, there is no way all the “trolls” can be eliminated and the bullies prosecuted.

To curb online venom, perhaps it is timely to review regulations and develop tech solutions to put a stop to those who take pleasure in damaging lives.
It may become necessary for online commenters to use their real names.

In the case of disrespectful postings on social media like Facebook, victims should report the matter to the administrators.

Raymond Anthony Fernando
 
 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Opinion: Let’s give President-elect Madam Halimah Yacob a chance to prove herself




I can fully understand the unhappiness expressed by some Singaporeans over the elected president contest as they feel that they have been deprived of choosing a President of their choice (“Lack of presidential contest disappointing; September 13, 2017, MediaCorp TODAY newspaper).  


A contest would have been good as it would have given Singaporeans the opportunity to vote for someone whom they believe in – and can represent them here and on the world stage.  Some of our people were upset with the process of the EP and as rightly observed by ESM Goh Chok Tong, this election was unpopular.


However, now that a decision has been made, we need to respect that, and give Madam Halimah Yacob a chance to prove herself.  A dynamic politician or leader Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subjects no matter how thorny the issues are.Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subjects no matter how thorny the issues are. is  someone  who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to speak up on any subject no matter how thorny the issue is.  To the best of my knowledge, I know that this lady is one such person. Madam Halimah has often spoken out passionately on workers welfare and providing support for the marginalised in our society. She did this during her tenure as unionist, minister of state and member of parliament – and has always been a humble person.

 

Having served 6 months as a volunteer on the management committee of Club Heal – a Muslim Voluntary Welfare Organisation, Madam Halimah gave her time to be Patron of this VWO where a tireless advocate and locum doctor Dr Radiah Salim helped set up Club Heal for the pupose of  reaching out to Muslims and also other races grappling with mental health issues, I could clearly see that she feels so much for those facing challenges and adversities in their lives. Despite her busy schedules, she would always find the time to attend to Club Heal events where she would mingle freely with the patients and their family members.  As a MP, she rendered unflagging support to her residents and that is why they adore her. Give her the opportunity to widen her support to the whole of Singapore.


Madam Halimah is undoubtedly a people’s person as she is humble and mixes well with Singaporeans from all walks of life, irrespective of their status in society.  With such positive energy, I have every confidence that Madam Halimah will also be able to become People’s President. Can't  we give her a chance?


The other two candidates who are successful businessmen, Mr Mohamed Salleh Marican , the founder and chief executive officer of second chance properties   and Mr Farid Khan Kaim Khan, chairman of offshore marine service provider Bourbon Offshore Asia  both of whom mentioned earlier that they wanted to serve all Singaporeans but expressed disappointment of not being able to contest the presidential election can still serve Singaporeans by considering to set up a charity each to help the needy in Singapore.  They can work with President -elect Madam Halimah on this matter, and I am sure she will appreciate the gesture. And so, will all Singaporeans.


It is so true that we are living in a very uncertain world with terrorism striking anytime and everywhere plus the threat of war breaking out as North Korea intensifies efforts to build nuclear bombs and carry out missile tests. 
 

Closer to home, there are many people who are unable to cope with the stresses of life and manage their temperament. Online venom is damaging lives and I am glad that Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah chided netizens for disparaging online comments directed at a 22-year old intern who was raped. Then there was a fighting incident in St Hilda’s Secondary School and a naked man that was filmed walking around in Tampines, leading netizens to pass insensitive comments without realising for one moment that the man could be grabbling with a mental issue that has gone untreated.


It is no easy task for our government and the community to tackle these and worldwide problems. But I have every confidence that we, as a cohesive society, can overcome these challenges if: (1) We stay united as one people, one nation, Singapore (2) Trusting in the power of prayer because practicing a faith helps a great deal (3) Help the government by being active citizens in proposing useful and workable suggestions to build a better society. This is where the forum editors of newspapers should lend support to writers who submit their thoughts/views (4) Embracing graciousness and positive energy. Perhaps a campaign on this can prove useful.


I offer my heartiest congratulations to Madam Halimah Yacob on her appointment as President of Singapore. Although she has limited powers, with her compassion for the less fortunate in our society, I am sure she can advise and influence the government to lend support to this group who are in dire need of support.


 RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO



,

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Public Suggestion to the Singapore Government: Use technology to enhance the lives of caregivers by setting up a Central Caregivers’ Database to provide support for caregivers
 
Reference the above matter.  I am providing a constructive workable solution to the problems of growing aged caregivers – and I hope the Singapore Government will be able to implement it soon.
 
Thank you.
Sincerely,
Raymond Anthony Fernando
 
I read with much interest the report in The Straits Times yesterday, 12th September 2017 – “Old and frail, and taking care of an elderly loved one.”
 
Being a dedicated caregiver to a loved one is a noble and rewarding task that requires immense sacrifice and commitment, but it often takes a heavy toll on their physical as well as mental health. I know this feeling only too well as I used to be a caregiver to my late wife for 40 years.
 
With Singapore’s fast ageing population, I am not at all surprised that a large proportion of these unsung heroes are over the age of 55. These caregivers who provide round-the-clock personalized dedicated service to their care recipients struggle everyday with enormous obstacles that includes financial cost in spent-down savings due to being retired or unemployed and having to pay for their own medical treatment as self-care is often neglected.
 
Hiring a maid these days is not a viable option as they are far too expensive.
 
There is a dire need to reach out to these caregivers, some of whom, as rightly pointed out by AWWA’s assistant director Ms Anita Ho, may not know where to receive help or want the much-need assistance.
 
Given that Singapore is moving to become a smart nation, we can use technology to enhance the lives of our tireless caregivers. To this end, all that is needed to be done is to set up a central caregivers’ database which can be managed by an appointed government agency.
 
When the caregiver goes for his/her medical appointment for their chronic illnesses, the treating doctor with the assistance of a case manager submits the caregiver particulars to the appointed government agency. With this central database, any kind of support – whether it is financial assistance, recreational activities or befriending services can be rendered easily.  
 
This database can be linked or interfaced to the Peoples Association so that the respective grassroots advisers from the community clubs can be in touch with caregivers in their constituency.   Caregivers who require support should also be able to submit their names to the community clubs where they reside so that their details can be submitted to the central caregivers’ database.
 
Organisations that are willing to offer any kind of support can be allowed, with approval from the appointed government agency, to access the database through a password.
 
When this system is well managed and fully operational, caregivers will be able to lead much better lives and they need not become super heroes.  The other benefit is that we can cut down on the workload of MOH and save costs.
 
 
Raymond Anthony Fernando
 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A MUST-READ: Moving marriage article by Ivan Lim for The Singapore Kindness Movement featuring Raymond Anthony Fernando & his wife, Doris Lau: “Reward couples for staying married? Crazy, but it’s not about money”


The article is on the magazine “The Pride” and written by Ivan Lim
Rayond Anthony Fernando is slightly peeved.
When I spoke with him yesterday, he grumbled about the trolls which had beset him after he had shared what he felt was a good idea with the national newspaper.
“All the negative vibes,” lamented the author. “And many of them don’t even show their real faces,” he added.
He had written to The Straits Times Forum on Sunday to suggest that couples should be rewarded for every decade of marriage.
It might, at the onset, seem like a very twee suggestion, but Raymond believes it would do a world of good. His letter to the ST Forum was in response to a report published in The Straits Times on Sept 3 about an initiative by the Registry of Marriages to celebrate couples who have been married for 50 years. The Golden Jubilee celebration – slated for next year’s Valentine’s Day – is aimed at encouraging strong marriages and couples would be given a commemorative certificate at the event.
Then-Minister for Social and Family Development and now Speaker of the House Tan Chuan-Jin said in the report: “I think celebrating their 50th anniversary is just one way of recognising couples and to encourage others to also try to emulate and, in their own way, reach their own key milestones as well.”
But why wait till 50?
“How many people would live that long?” asked Raymond. He suggested taking it a step further – by rewarding couples for every 10 years of marriage instead.
“Some rewards can be in the form of shopping or dining vouchers, or holiday packages, with better rewards the longer the marriage lasts,” he wrote. He added that he believed commercial sponsors would be more than willing to support such an endeavour.
The letter, which was posted on The Straits Times’ Facebook page, received more than 600 reactions and was shared about 400 times. It also garnered more than 150 comments.
Unfortunately, most of these were negative
“If there is a need for the government to give incentive so that a couple will stay married, that couple shouldn’t even be married in the first place,” said one.
“Always looking for a handout, always looking for a free meal! How about getting a backbone and take full accountability?” said another. And these weren’t even the most mean-spirited ones.
Raymond’s suggestion was by no means for his own marriage. His wife died in 2014. Doris, who was married to him for 40 years before her passing, struggled all her life with schizophrenia. In 2004, Raymond wrote a book, titled Loving a Schizophrenic.
“When we got married, I was 24 and Doris was just 21,” he said. “She was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 17.”
Raymond, who is proudly Catholic, was born on Valentine’s Day 67 years ago. Doris was born on All Saints Day (Nov 1). The union seemed made in heaven. But getting married on earth was no easy task: Raymond said they had to wed in secret.
“Doris’ family did not like me because I am Eurasian. You know, during those days, marriage outside of one’s own race was practically unheard of,” he told The Pride. “Also, they did not trust me to manage her because of her mental condition.”
He explained that his in-laws were afraid that he would be a flirt or a womaniser, which would have been devastating for Doris in her fragile mental state.
“Sometimes, being good-looking has its disadvantages,” he said in all seriousness. Thankfully, when her family saw how he took care of her over the years, they had a change of heart.
“But It was only after about 10 years that they came to accept the marriage,” said Raymond.
He worked in radio (starting at Radio and Television Singapore in the 70s before it gradually evolved into today’s MediaCorp Radio) for 30 years, the last 15 of which were in public relations. He left in 2001 to care for his wife.
“Doris was needing more and more support,” he said. “She would tell me, go ahead and work, but she would be crying and depressed when alone, so I decided to quit to take care of her full-time.”.
He started to write books with the aid of government grants, and to date, has authored 30 books – from inspirational titles, several pertaining to mental health matters, to fiction, poetry and even humour. He also succeeded in persuading Doris to write a series of cookbooks.
“She was very reluctant, at first,” said Raymond of her maiden effort, Cook With Love.
“She was Peranakan-Teochew, and an excellent cook,” he said with enormous pride in his voice. “She combined what she knew with my Eurasian influence and came up with some excellent dishes. Most of all, she cooked with love, which is what we called her first book.” With his help, Doris completed eight books before she died.
Raymond regards his late wife as a role model for people suffering from schizophrenia and depression. “She was my inspiration,” he said.
So how on earth did his suggestion to the media inspire such nasty comments from so many Internet users.
Raymond had meant for the milestones in marriage to be something that the community could celebrate, instead of merely rewarding couples for remaining in a marriage. Perhaps the message was lost in the brevity of the letter.
He suggested that it is a great way for community representatives and the Member of Parliament to be in touch with the citizens, to listen to their love stories and be aware of the things that real people go through in their daily lives.
“It would be an excellent way for the MP and grassroots leaders to understand the people they represent and what’s important to them,” said Raymond. “It would help build rapport between the two.”
“Whether it is a small ceremony or a gala dinner, it would be a celebration of love. Younger couples could learn a thing or two from older ones celebrating their 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th or 50th anniversaries. The older and more experienced they are as a married couple, the more they will have to share, and the entire community can gain from their experience,” he said.
Raymond’s own marriage to Doris fell a decade short of its Golden Jubilee, but no doubt it would have lasted 50 years – or longer – had Doris not succumbed to pneumonia a day before Good Friday in 2014. She was only 61.
Upon her passing, Raymond penned a loving tribute to the love of his life – She Said Goodbye, With a Rose. Without a doubt, the couple would have had no need for dining vouchers or travel packages to keep their love burning, had Doris remained alive.
As he contemplated a photo of Doris’ niche at the columbarium, he declared: “She taught me how to love unconditionally.”
Folks, for the said article that comes with some touching photographs, click into this link
 
 
 
 
 

Raymond’s tribute to a newscaster in the press: Duncan Watt helped raise standard of news presenting




My letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on the above matter is published today, Tuesday 12th September 2017

Like many of my former colleagues in broadcasting, I am saddened by the death of Duncan Watt, one of our well-known newsreaders in the 1980s and 90s (“Former news presenter Duncan Watt dies of liver cancer”; Sept 9, Channel NewsAsia).

To the best of my knowledge, he was a humble, friendly man who was never in a rush but always calm.

He was a man of few words, and when he did speak during his visits to read the news, it was a simple “hi” matched with a smile for everyone: Security personnel, front desk staff, make-up artists and his newsroom colleagues.

His professionalism in news presenting and his looks appealed to TV viewers, especially the older generation. His battle with liver cancer must have been a difficult period, but he is now free from suffering.

As I catch the TV news at night, I will remember this man who has contributed in some way to the rise in the standard of news presenting here.

RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO


 

Have a suicide prevention day and develop a software to detect emotional distress : An open proposal to the Ministry of Health & the Singapore Government



It is a worrying trend that the number of people grappling with mental health issues is increasing. But what is even more troubling is that every day 15 people attempt to end their lives here in Singapore with at least one of them succeeding in doing so, in The New Paper report “Learn to see warning signs of suicide” September, 9, 2017.
It is heartening to note that Shan You Counselling Centre has introduced a suicide awareness training workshop targeting the community. But more needs to be done.
When depressed people attempt suicide to end their lives, resources get stretched. Besides the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the police having to move in swiftly, the hospital where the suspect gets warded and the courts will also see an increased workload.
Given that stress and mental illness is affecting many of our citizens – young and old, these conditions and suicides can be better managed if all of us play our part and look out for one another.   Mental illness education should not be just be confined to the patients and their caregivers, but to the community at large –neighbours, friends, religious groups, students, employers and workers.
To raise awareness of the importance of valuing life, I propose that the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Institute of Mental Health and the Samaritans of Singapore introduce an annual World Suicide Prevention Day, which can be held in September – a month before World Mental Health Day is celebrated worldwide in October.  During the event, people can be encouraged to light a candle to offer support for suicide prevention, to remember anyone who lost their life and for enlightened suicide surviours to can share how they survived their ordeal and are coping well.
Often people contemplating suicide will write about their pent-up frustrations and distress on social media.  We can use technology in recognising patterns in people’s comments on social media such as Facebook posts.  Through the compassion of people in our community, we can help prevent harm to anyone who is distressed.  To this end, I propose that a software be developed to sieve out any troubling post, after which mental providers can be called upon to assist immediately.
All of us can help bring the suicide rates down and change troubled lives by having a conversation with someone who may be struggling with their mental health issues, without passing judgement, but by showing much empathy and compassion
It is futile for Singapore to have resounding economic success and yet her citizens are losing the will to live.
 
To help bring down the suicide rates, the treating hospitals/doctors, mental health VWOs and SOS who know of people who are suicidal should prepare a summary of such cases and send weekly or monthly reports to the Ministry of Health (MOH) for them to study the patterns. On July 24, 2013, I had proposed through the press that a task force be set to tackle depression and suicides and now one has been put in place (see my blog)
 
MOH can then submit the findings to this task force.  Through these collaborative efforts, I have every confidence that the suicide rates can be significantly reduced.
 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Encourage writing of personal stories with platforms to market books




I am moved by the plight of 17-year-old Gareth Ho as he unfolds the struggles he faces with muscular dystrophy. (Telling stories of those with disabilities, to forge greater inclusiveness; The Straits Times September 8, 2017). In the report, it was mentioned, the teenager who moves around in a motorised wheelchair due to his muscular dystrophy condition has faced humiliation with unkind action and words. 
Once a teenager spat on Gareth’s hand and wiped it on Gareth’s arm at the Sengkang LRT station. Gareth said he was shocked and angry for being humiliated in this manner.  Occasionally, the young lad has to explain his condition to strangers when they tell Gareth that at his young age, he ought to be walking about instead of being in a wheelchair.

It is abundantly clear that these strangers are obviously ignorant of muscular dystrophy.



What is muscular dystrophy? 


Muscular dystrophy is a group of diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. In muscular dystrophy, abnormal genes (mutations) interfere with the production of proteins needed to form healthy muscle.  Some people who have muscular dystrophy will eventually lose the ability to walk. Some may have trouble breathing or swallowing. There is no cure for muscular dystrophy, but medications and therapy can help manage symptoms and slow the course of the disease.

Due to lack of understanding, often people with disabilities are judged, underestimated and looked down upon.  Even though we are an affluent and well-educated society, how many people are willing to accept persons with conditions such as autism, mental illness, muscular dystrophy and down syndrome which they do not choose to have?  Often the hurtful comments and actions directed at this group cuts like a knife immediately, but the wounds inflicted can last for years to come. 

One way to beat discrimination and show a unified respect for persons with disabilities is to encourage persons with such special needs to share their personal stories – through the media or through novels. 

Through such platforms, much awareness and action can be created in which persons with disabilities will be able to lead normal lives and be seen for the people they are, rather than a focus on their disabilities.

It is not easy to market books written by budding authors, but if there are platforms for them to promote their works, we can have many success stories.

I am encouraged that the newly designed hawker centre in Pasir Ris central centre managed by NTUC Foodfare will have events like art markets and craft fairs (New hawker centre to serve creative meals; September 7, 2017, The Strait Times).   One way to support our authors with disabilities is for this upbeat hawker centre to provide rented stalls priced at $10 for them to sell their books.

I am confident that through this avenue, these authors can chart a writing career for themselves and be able to be self-sufficient where they can live independently. Those are interested can buy the books and help lift the human spirit. Let us bear in mind that although there many people with disabilities, they also possess abilities.   Moreover, mingling with the diners will provide the much-needed social cohesion for those with special needs in which a new view of how we can respect our differences — and celebrate our similarities.


For when we can produce positive energy, we will be able to bring sunshine into lives of those with special needs –thereby earning the reputation of becoming a truly gracious society. 

 

Raymond Anthony Fernando

 

Raymond’s article on All Singapore Stuff: Train grassroots leaders to become SOS volunteers



 The number of people grappling with stress, depression and other mental health issues is rising – at an unhealthy trend.  Severely stressed-out people who have no avenue to turn to or someone to listen to their problems and help them out will give up on life.  Those who are lonely and isolated, as in the case of many of our lonely seniors who feel unloved, will also commit suicide.  It has happened and we just cannot sweep this social problem under the carpet.
 
It was reported in The New Paper on 9th September 2017 that each day 15 people in Singapore try to kill themselves with one troubled person succeeding in ending his/her life.  
 
The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) have been doing good work in comforting distressed people, but they are facing big problems in securing volunteers as many of those who volunteer have full time jobs.  Out of the 173 SOS volunteers, only 59.8 percent could fully commit to the hours required of them and those duties stretched overnight.
 
Most of the calls to SOS seeking help are between midnight and 2am – the period when there are lesser SOS volunteers.  Yet, this is a time when people who are deeply troubled and contemplating suicide need a listening year.  
 
To help SOS carry out their unenviable tasks of consoling, saving and reclaiming lives, I propose that our grassroots leaders step forward and become SOS volunteers. Some of our grassroots have received training in basic mental health by the professionals at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). Equipped with this knowledge they can be useful to SOS.   More of these grassroots leaders can receive mental health training by IMH and increase the manpower shortage at SOS.   
 
With training by SOS, many of these grassroots leaders can help save and reclaim lives. Moreover, as they work closely with our policy makers–Members of Parliament and Ministers, the grassroots leaders can be well positioned to give constructive and genuine feedback to the policy makers. 
 
Grassroots leaders are the eyes and ears of the government – but more importantly they must serve the community and help residents who are going through challenges as they are in touch with the ground.
 
In addition, talks by recovered patients, psychiatrists and resilient caregivers whereby a holistic approach on mental health is taken, ought to be held at community clubs island-wide. When residents are moved by such sharing experiences, you might just be able to secure SOS volunteers from the audience.  If not, with the knowledge gained though such talks, they, as neighbours, can help anyone who is going through mental health issues. 
 
It will take a village to help and support those struggling with mental health issues, but if we don’t try to reach out to them, then we will not become an inclusive society. 
 
Raymond Anthony Fernando
 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Raymond A Fernando's letter to The Sunday Times: Reward couples for every decade of marriage



My press letter to The Straits Times is published today, Sunday 10th September 2017.
 
It is a good effort on the part of the Registry of Marriages (ROM) to accord recognition to couples who have stayed committed to each other for 50 years, and to present them with a commemorative marriage certificate (Renew vows to mark 50 years of marriage; Sept 3).
Undoubtedly, couples who take responsibility to work hard and make the partnership grow and blossom will stay together.
In embarking on the marriage journey, both husband and wife must be aware that it may not be smooth sailing, and there may be some bumps on the way.
Let us remember that great partnerships are not born, but have to be developed through the years.
So, why recognise only couples who have remained married for 50 years? Why not consider rewarding couples at different periods in their marriage journey?
For example, for every 10 years of marriage, couples can be accorded some form of recognition. Some rewards can be in the form of shopping or dining vouchers, or holiday packages, with better rewards the longer the marriage lasts.
I am confident that sponsors will willingly step forward to support this cause.
Raymond Anthony Fernando
 
 
 
 
 

An open appeal to MOH, MSF, NCSS & IMH: Value and give job opportunities for resilient caregivers who have a wealth of knowledge in managing persons with mental illness



The number of people grappling with mental health issues is growing by leaps and bounds. If anyone becomes a caregiver to a loved one with mental illness for the very first time, he/she will be ‘groping in the dark’ as it is no easy task trying to tackle any type of mental illness – be it depression, schizophrenia, bipolar or anxiety disorders.
A novice caregiver has to quickly learn as much as he/she can otherwise they will so easily raise the white flag. In managing someone with mental illness, the caregiver will have to exercise extreme patience, deep understanding with lots of empathy and compassion.  In this day and age when life has become so stressful, providing structural support for both the mentally ill persons and their caregivers has to be put in place.
A good way to help the mentally ill person come to terms with his/her condition and help him/her in their recovery is for experience and resilient patients or caregivers to walk with them along their journey.  This is why I proposed that Singapore starts a Peer Specialist scheme which has proven to be successful in America. Details of my proposal which was put up way back in 2012 is reproduced here on my blog. It was routed to the Singapore government and mental health providers.
Peer specialists needed to help caregivers of the mentally ill (Published on Saturday, July 28, 2012)
Both the Singapore Association for Mental Illness (SAMH) and the Institute of Mental Illness (IMH) saw value in my proposal and employed Peer Specialists in their respective organisations. Later, the Caregiver Alliance Limited (CAL) and CLUB HEAL also employed Peer Specialists.
Then 4 years later, I proposed we build on that Peer Specialist scheme and introduce a Caregiver Specialist scheme. Details are given here on my blog:
Public Suggestion: Introduce a Caregiver Specialist scheme to help those grappling with mental illness (Published on Saturday, January 23, 2016)
Resilient caregivers who have been instrumental in helping their loved ones or any other person cope with mental health issues ought to be accorded due recognition by way of job opportunities.   
I am a very vocal person and very open about mental illness – and do not feel awkward of speaking candidly of how I helped my late wife  Doris manage her schizophrenia for 40 years.  Through my undying love for my wife, I managed to help her become an author of eight successful books. That is a pretty big achievement, seeing that Doris also had to grapple with advanced arthritis that left her mobility severely impaired.  
I went on national TV and radio 20 times – 10 on TV, 10 on radio and it helped raise so much awareness of mental health issues and the struggles we face in a society that is yet to be acceptable to the mentally ill. Sadly, it is not just the mentally ill who are discriminated against, but their caregivers too.
But I will not be discouraged in anyway. I will continue to soldier on and help save lives. Through my counselling, often 24/7, and support for the mentally ill and their caregivers, I have saved lives, 3 of whom were at first suicidal. All 3 are now coping well.
During my career in broadcasting, I had to balance work and family life, but the demands in caregiving with lack of structural support drove me to suicide. But God saved me as He, I believe, has a mission for me. 
I was able to recover through the wonderful support of my psychiatrist at IMH – the late Dr Ang Ah Ling who was also my wife’s doctor. In the course of my treatment, I asked Dr Ang why there is so much discrimination and favouritism, and he told me quite rightly that discrimination and favouritism is everywhere and I had to accept that.   Impressed by my writing skills, Dr Ang encouraged to write books. This kind doctor paved the way for me to start a writing career, and today I have 30 books to my name.   
I intend to go abroad to the Philippines in due course to visit an orphanage and teach English to the children there as well as educate the people there on mental illness. The organisers in a province are delighted!  My advocacy work is not just limited to Singapore, but abroad as well.
It now leads me to the Straits Times article that was published on Saturday, September 9, 2017 – “Helping those with mental health issues find work.”
In the article, the National Council of Service (NCSS), the Workforce Singapore and social service organisations will be introducing an apprenticeship scheme to help people with mental illness find work. This training scheme conducted by trainers from the US is only for Peer Specialists.  Why?
To be frank, I am deeply disappointed with the way things are going. On more than two occasions, I had applied for the position of Peer Specialist with NCSS and IMH. I may be 67 years old, but I had extensive experience in helping the mentally ill recover, I inspire caregivers and the general public through my motivational talks on mental illness at IMH, Silver Ribbon Singapore, at polytechnics and at times at SAMH.
When I applied for the Peer Specialist position, it was rejected and I am given the standard civil service reply: No vacancies.
Yet the very position of Peer Specialist that I proposed has enabled the recovered patients find jobs and now an opportunity to go for training through this apprentice scheme.  It is not right to ‘cheery pick’ people that the organisations favours – one way or the other.
The government recognises now that you do not need a degree to get a job or move up the corporate ladder. They also are keen to find jobs for the elderly so that they can be self-reliant. 
I hope NCSS and her partners will adopt fair HR practices and give equal opportunity for seniors like me to secure a peer specialist position so that I can continue to save and reclaim lives.  My contributions, whether through press letters, counselling people on my own time, useful suggestions to the government and public speaking should be valued at all times.  
 
Raymond Anthony Fernando