Open doors to public education on mental illness

Having been a caregiver to my late wife, who coped with schizophrenia for 44 years, and as a volunteer with three mental healthcare providers, I share the sentiments expressed by Miss Lee Kay Yan in her letter ("Seek psychiatric, not psychic, help for mental illness"; last Saturday).

In many of the cases that I have handled, family members caring for the mentally ill will approach only those they trust, given the nagging social stigma that is attached to mental illness.

It is crucial for people to learn at first hand the amazing recovery of psychiatric patients through medication and, more importantly, through staunch emotional support from resilient caregivers.

Once this is clearly explained, there is an excellent chance of caregivers getting their loved ones to seek treatment. This, I have done successfully through motivational talks and dialogues.

It is human nature for people to fear what they do not understand.

Holding talks and dialogues on mental illness is never an easy task, because it is viewed as a taboo subject, and people have the mistaken belief that mental illness will never affect them or their loved ones.

Then, there are professionals who are of the opinion that only psychiatrists can give talks on mental illness, and will turn away resilient caregivers who can so easily motivate and give hope to novice caregivers of the mentally ill.

Besides partnering mental healthcare providers to raise public awareness on mental illness, I have also reached out to many organisations to try to boost public education on mental illness.

But I still face an uphill task in trying to reach out to some agencies.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'Open doors to public education on mental illness'. Print Edition | Subscribe