It's a tough job, so 'show care to family caregivers'

Madam Jayamalini with her second son, 11-year-old Immanuel, who was diagnosed with global developmental delay at birth and requires frequent hospital visits. The single parent has three sons, two of whom have special needs.
Madam Jayamalini with her second son, 11-year-old Immanuel, who was diagnosed with global developmental delay at birth and requires frequent hospital visits. The single parent has three sons, two of whom have special needs.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

When Madam Jayamalini Ariatheven's husband walked out on her eight years ago, after a marriage that involved arguments and domestic violence, she was left to look after their three sons, two of whom have special needs.

Feeling helpless, she attempted suicide in 2008, taking about 100 anti-depressant pills and alcohol.

"I wanted to die. I didn't bother about my kids. It was selfish," said the 40-year-old at her four-room HDB flat in Choa Chu Kang.

With motivation from her doctor, social worker and friends, she realised she had to live for her sons.

"They understood what I was going through. They consoled and counselled me, giving me tips on how to handle my children," said Madam Jayamalini, whose mother died in 2005, and who has lost contact with her father and elder sister.

In a Facebook post last week, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing stressed the importance that friends, colleagues and employers can have in helping people like Madam Jayamalini.

"Family caregivers are often the ones who need a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on as looking after persons with special needs requires emotional strength and renewal more than anything else," he wrote.

Madam Jayamalini's second son, Immanuel Raja Rajendra Verma, 11, was diagnosed with global developmental delay at birth and requires frequent hospital visits, while her youngest son, Isaiah, 10, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Her eldest son, 13-year-old Isaac, has been her pillar of strength. Now she is giving her three schoolboys "a childhood like any other children's", after overcoming her problems with the help of two people - a close friend and her boss.

"JM" has known Madam Jayamalini for 25 years, and has been on hand for heart-to-heart conversations. She visits the family twice a month and sends Madam Jayamalini daily messages on WhatsApp.

"She is my best friend and the three kids are innocent," said 43-year-old JM, who is also their godmother. "I want her to get up, step out of the house, start working and get in touch with society again."

Madam Jayamalini works as a home-based administrator for Dx Marine Services, earning $1,000 a month. Her employer, Madam Thanaletchemi Ramasamy, understands her struggles. "She can't leave her sons and go out to work," said the 52-year-old director. "I just want to help by giving her a job."

Social service professionals such as AWWA Centre for Caregivers director Manmohan Singh stressed the importance of such support.

"The first level of support is to talk to people going through the same experience," he said. "Most caregivers are often on the verge of anxiety that almost leads to depression. Some contemplate suicide."

A study by a group of final-year Nanyang Technological University students found Singaporeans do not help caregivers enough. Nearly half of those surveyed know someone who looks after a family member with special needs. While six in 10 agreed it is necessary to show care towards family caregivers, only two in 10 offered help.

Dr Kalyani K. Mehta, chairman of the Silver Caregivers Cooperative, said the caregiver role is often thrust upon a person. It can impact their life in areas such as employment, social life and finance.

"Looking after someone with special needs requires tremendous amount of energy, time and patience," she said. "As they (those with special needs) may not listen to reason, it can be frustrating."

A social worker, who did not want to be named, said: "Sometimes caregivers have their own reason for not wanting help." Madam Jayamalini said she seldom asks for assistance. "It's very difficult, very tough. I cry thinking about their future," she said of her children. "Sometimes I feel paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassed) to ask (for help). I don't want to disturb people. They have their own lives and family."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'It's a tough job, so 'show care to family caregivers''. Print Edition | Subscribe