Speech By President Halimah Yacob at Club Heal's Fifth Year Anniversary Charity Gala Dinner

I am indeed very happy to join Club Heal today as it celebrates its fifth anniversary.

I feel as if it was only yesterday that I discussed with Dr Radiah about setting up a centre, first in Bukit Batok East and then in Marsiling. I am glad that both centres are doing well in reaching out to persons with mental health issues. And I know that Dr Radiah has gone on to open a third centre in Pasir Ris, and she is talking about opening even more centres. I strongly supported Club Heal when approached, because I fully understand the challenges, prejudices and barriers that persons with mental health issues face.

Without our support and assistance, it will be difficult for them to work, live and integrate into our society. This is a great pity because with the right kind of support and encouragement, people with mental health issues too can lead fulfilling lives and be contributing members of our society, as shown by the many positive examples that we have come across. The cost of ignoring their struggles is not only painful for them and their families but will also have an impact on our society and our economy. What people with mental health issues need is to go beyond just medication and medical treatment. Medication and medical treatment alone are not sufficient. They need places, such as the centres operated by Club Heal, where they and their caregivers can get advice, recuperate, rehabilitate and even pick up important social and occupational skills.

There is a lot that we can do for persons with mental health issues. Whether in school, at the workplace or in the community, our understanding makes a great difference in breaking down the stigma and barriers and in making life more bearable for them and their families. The truth is that anyone can be afflicted by this illness, which is no different from any other physical illnesses that we encounter. Recently, a young South Korean pop star committed suicide. But I was more interested because of what happened to him, and why he committed suicide. The entire world was shocked because he appeared to be doing well as he was famous and he was very well liked. But people did not know that he was battling depression, a form of mental illness, that finally consumed him. It was the stress of having to perform to the outside world all the time, and he succumbed to it.

The most unfortunate thing though is that there is a lack of understanding about mental illness despite the huge amount of literature and information that can be found about it on the internet. This ignorance about the illness, hinders our ability to interact meaningfully and with compassion. For example, unless we make an effort to find out about bipolar disorder, we will be completely baffled and unsympathetic to someone who exhibits episodes of great highs and lows in their behaviour. We may think that the person has poor control over his or her emotions and we may get upset with him or her because we live in a society with all kinds of social norms. But these are beyond their control, bipolar disorder for instance. One moment they are just low in depression, another moment they are high and elated.  So, a good starting point for us to be helpful, is to find out more about mental illness so that we will not prejudge the sufferers or subject them to ridicule and contempt.

I understand that Club Heal now operates three centres and, since 2016, has expanded its services to provide help for those with dementia and their caregivers. As our society ages rapidly, dementia will pose a significant problem and we need effective community outreach programmes to better manage it, so Club Heal’s focus is timely.

Club Heal’s work will not have been possible without the support of so many people. So, let me take this opportunity to thank all the management and staff of Club Heal, Dr Radiah, the management team, the staff, and also MP Zaqy Muhammad. The many donors, who have been very forthcoming with their donations, and I want to emphasize that raising funds for people with mental health issues for VWOs, championing this cause is actually extremely difficult. So to those who donate, who are the sponsors and donors, you are all doing a wonderful job and I hope that this will continue. And I also must thank the volunteers, the mental health professionals that support the work of Dr Radiah and Club Heal. Of course I have also seen many of the other VWOs championing this. Thank you very much. You do a really wonderful and a good job. We need effective programmes on the ground where you can reach out to the people so working together is really important. And I really want to also thank all the various champions and advocates of persons with mental health issues. On behalf of the beneficiaries of Club Heal and their families, thank you to everyone who helped. The journey ahead for many mental health patients is a long one, and they continue to need your help.

As the famous poet Kahlil Gibran said, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

So, thank you everyone here today for your spirit of giving.  

Have an enjoyable evening.