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Produce local TV dramas that portray psychiatric patients recovering

The following letter was sent to the various presses for publication on Dec 25.

by Raymond Anthony Fernando

I refer to the letter by Mr Paul Chan of Mediacorp (“Extreme care taken with depiction of sensitive themes;Friday 24th December 2010).

First of all, my deepest condolences to Mr Wong Chin Yong who lost someone close to him through an apparent suicide. Coming to terms with suicide is never easy.

While it is useful for the Channel 8's show – “Breakout” to include scenes of family and a friend encouraging a psychiatric patient - played by Jeanette Aw, to seek medical treatment, the tale end in which she commits suicide is unhelpful - given that suicide is on the rise.

Surely, it would be better if the television station could also portrays psychiatric patients recovering, and going on to lead perfectly normal lives. I have never seen any such local programmes showing patients recovering. Why are psychiatric patients always put in bad light?

In the popular Taiwanese TV serial, “Love”, a wife who is abused and tormented by her villain husband attempts suicide, but after being warded in a mental hospital, she recovers with support from her family and friends, and goes on to lead a happy life. This is a good way to show that psychiatric patients can recover.

There are many cases of patients who have have recovered after receiving treatment that includes medication and counselling. This is what the Chinese dramas ought to promote. My wife who was first stricken with schizophrenia and depression at the tender age of 17 is recovering from this major mental disorder, and going on to lead a normal life. She has written 5 books. Isn't that a big achievement? Isn't that a clear sign that the mentally ill can recover?

Many of our Chinese TV dramas often portray psychiatric patients who are violent, harm people and are trouble makers. During prime time, these programmes reach out to about 1 million viewers and because of it's mass appeal, it can sway peoples' thinking. This does not help in any way to de-stigmatise mental illness- a growing problem here in Singapore.

I have also noticed that insensitive language is being used in many of the Mandarin programmes on Channel 8. By using the word, sern chin ping (“crazy), freely in both dramas and variety shows, it will hurt the patients who are trying to recover. I raised this issue in the Straits Times on 20 June 2005, but such insensitive dialogue is still be used. Why?

The national broadcaster must also be mindful that such programmes also are being viewed by patients who are warded in psychiatric hospitals and also by those who are discharged from the hospitals and recovering at home.

I wish all readers, psychiatric patients and their caregivers a "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" . My Christmas and new year wish is that someday these marginalised citizens will be able to live in dignity. And I will continue to be a voice for the voiceless - for it is the only decent thing to do.

The writer is a caregiver and author of “Loving a schizophrenic”. He also keeps a blog, Ray of Light, in which he writes about issues facing the mentally ill and their caregivers.