The following is a letter sent to us by a TOC reader who also writes at his blog.
Professor Lee Wei Ling's report two Sundays back, “Who cares for the caregivers” (Jan 30) paints a depressing, but realistic picture of the difficulties many caregivers face in taking care of their loved ones struggling with disabilities. I'm glad she had the courage and conviction to speak out for our caregivers- many of whom suffer in silence.
In yesterday's Sunday Times – February 6, 2011 (Your letters column), three caregivers speak of their deep-set worries and frustrations over caregiving responsibilities. They, like myself are pleading for support from the Government to enabled them to travel an easier journey.
As the sole caregiver to my wife who has to struggle with schizophrenia and arthritis, amongst other health ailments, I have suffered burnout countless times during my 35-year journey with her. Despite endless pleading for help in view of her disabilities, I am not getting the structural support that I so badly need.
Besides writing 102 letters to the various presses, my wife and I have gone on national television and radio to speak of our plight. This has been undertaken over a period of six years. In addition, I have also written to several Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament requesting for a good structural support for caregivers.
I have also asked some MPs to raise the plight of the mentally ill in Parliament. No one is willing to do so. Why? Are we not citizens who toiled with our blood, sweat and tears in our early years. Done national service, paid our taxes. Aren't MPs elected to serve the people- ALL people.
The support system for caregivers in Singapore is practically non-existent.
In 2006, when my wife suffered a serious relapse of schizophrenia that required hospitalization, I suffered all alone. On the day that she was admitted to IMH, I sent an email to the Executive Director of a mental health organisation hoping that I could secure some support/comfort. The reply I received really put me off. This is what was told to me: “Dear Raymond, I'm sorry to hear that. Please take care of yourself.” After that I never heard from her.
Is this what support is all about? For two solid months, I cried myself to sleep every night during my wife's hospitalisation. There was absolutely no one to comfort me. I fell into depression. I only found solace in Jesus for HE is one person who never lets you down.
My biggest worry - who is going to take care of my wife should I pass on before her? Although the Mental Capacity Act allows family members to appoint a surrogate caregiver in the event that I die, I cannot find anyone trustworthy or patient enough to take on that role.
This morning, my wife, fighting back tears, asked me this question: “Ray, who will look after me if you die before me?” I told her I will have to keep pressing for more support for the mentally ill and their caregivers. For that's the only decent thing to do. I also told her to pray because “God gives when others fails”.
It is not just persons with mental illness that are stigmatised, but their caregivers are also shunned and discriminated against. That's the harsh reality.
The setting up of a good support network for caregivers by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports is taking far too long. Last year and at the opening of this year, there have been several reports of those with special needs – including two teenagers and those with mental illness who have perished in a most tragic manner.
(a) A cash-strapped 33-year-old mum who wanted to end her life and that of her three young daughters (The New Paper report - “Coughing kid stops her from suicide bid”, Tuesday 28 December 2010).
On 27th December 2010, the divorcee who has depression, gathered her three daughters - aged 10, 11 and 13 – in her bedroom, locked the door and proceeded to burn charcoal which would lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. The mother had a change of heart when one of the daughters began crying and coughing. The police who were informed of her suicide bid by the daughter who was in tears, arrested the mother.
(b) There was another heart-wrenching incident which took place when the new year opened.
On Wednesday 5th January 2011, the Straits Times published a report, “Dead man found solace in religion, ST, Jan 7).
29-year-old Tok Puay Yong was found dead in the compound of the Church of St Mary of the Angels. Tok, who appeared to have developed mental health problems was depressed over not being able to secure a job. He found solace after visiting the Catholic church in Bukit Batok.
(c ) On the 10th of January this year, Madam Ng Sock Luan, 48 who was being treated for depression had fallen from the Bishan block where she lived. Madam Ng who resided on the 11th floor leaves behind her 49-year-old husband, a son, 18, and a daughter, 20.
Who cared for the caregivers?
Last month, I had to bring my wife to Tan Tock Seng Hospital(TTSH) 4 times for her arthritis treatment. This did not include her medical appointment at IMH and the polyclinic where she receives treatment services for her diabetes and high cholesterol. At TTSH last Wednesday, I spent 7 solid hours taking her from station to station for her blood tests, X-rays and so forth. On top of that I have to do all the errands , housework and buy our meals as my wife can no longer cook. Who will not suffer burnout under such circumstances?
I've asked for the peak hour taxi and ERP charges to be waived because my wife who is at fall risks cannot take the MRT or buses. Transport Minister Raymond Lim, whom I made an appeal turned down my request saying that LTA leaves it to the taxi operators to follow market rates. Mind you, I don't have a full-time job.
I fully agree with Prof Lee Wei Ling that we cannot claim to be a civilised society if the weakest and most unfortunate among us are not adequately taken care of.
Singapore has done well in meeting the basic needs of its citizens such as a good education system, health and housing needs, and a safe and clean environment. However, there is still an urgent and dire need to facilitate the inclusion of our marginalised communities who do not have the same sense of belonging in a society that is focused on economic excellence.
As Singapore journeys towards becoming an inclusive society and caring nation, it must bear in mind that there will always be people who may need more help. And undoubtedly, the mentally challenged, the physically disabled and their families are some of those who urgently need a great deal of support.
I hope the Singapore Government will find it in their hearts to spare a thought for people like us who do not give up on their stricken ones despite the enormous adversities we face in our daily lives. I love my wife deeply and I will protect her with my life for she is a beautiful human being, who like anyone of us , deserves love, understanding and support.
Sometimes when people are healthy and their families are in the pink of health, they will not be able to empathise with those who are sick.
Raymond Anthony Fernando
Mental Health Actvitist