Mr Murali Pillai SC
Mr Murali Pillai SC is a second term Member of Parliament of Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency. Prior to being elected as MP, he served as a community leader in the same ward since 2000. He is a Senior Counsel who has been in private legal practice since 1996. Before joining legal practice, he served in the Singapore Police Force as an Assistant Superintendent of Police between 1992 and 1995.
In 2016, he set up the Green Ribbon Taskforce in Bukit Batok, consisting of volunteers who reach out to residents with family members who have mental challenges.
CAL and Bukit Batok SMC's relationship was also established in 2016. Since then, CAL has been actively working with Bukit Batok in running C2C Programmes to caregiver residents, through the help of the Green Ribbon Taskforce, as well as conducting public mental health talks and workshops.
Going through COVID last year has shed a lot more light on mental health. Do you think that has helped improve the stigma around it, and raised more awareness around mental health issues?
Yes. I agree that we are beginning to tackle the problem associated with stigma, because people are starting to talk more about it; and I have to thank Caregivers Alliance for that. CAL has been assiduously planning programme after programme to raise the awareness of mental health issues. I've attended at least five or six C2C graduations to date, and every single one of them was very moving. I hear accounts of caregivers on the difficulties they faced, and how CAL provided the network and the know-how, so that they can go about their caregiving roles more confidently.
I also would say that CAL came up with what I thought was very effective and practical in terms of amplifying the reach, which is to organise programmes in accordance with the vernacular languages that the participants are comfortable in. For example, the most recent C2C graduation ceremony I attended consisted of a target audience who were middle aged adults who preferred speaking Mandarin, and I could see the emotional connection straightaway.
Could you give us more insight to your constituency’s Green Ribbon Taskforce and through this share with us a brief story of a caregiver whom the team has managed to reach out to and helped?
I'm really fortunate in Bukit Batok to have a number of dedicated community volunteers. The background to Green Ribbon is that, from time to time, I hear of cases that are presented as disturbances by neighbours against neighbours but, in fact, the underlying issue is mental illnesses, often undiagnosed. The remit of the Green Ribbon Taskforce is to intervene in these cases and liaise with government agencies and VWOs so as to help these families in distress.
The first case that triggered this move on my part to form the Green Ribbon Taskforce, was a gentleman in his 70s, who unfortunately, had a habit of flinging bags of his urine out of his door, from a height. Naturally, this was presented as a dispute between neighbours. However, the truth was that this gentleman had an undiagnosed mental health condition and he did not have a network of support. When we found out about it, we immediately got IMH to come in to intervene. Eventually, we were able to explain to the neighbours the situation, and they immediately empathised with him and then changed their behaviour and reaction to him, with help from the Green Ribbon Taskforce.
What advice do you have for people out there who suspect that they themselves or if not somebody that they know, may be suffering from a mental health condition?
Ultimately, the common denominator is that they all want the best for their loved ones. What I would recommend if it's in the context of family and relationship is to actually bring it up to organisations such as CAL and mental health professionals, who have the expertise to provide more considered opinion on the presenting issues and a guide as to what can be done. The last thing you should do is to keep quiet.
In Bukit Batok, we have put up hotlines to call in all of our blocks, for residents who may be feeling depressed or even suicidal. This was actually a project that the Green Ribbon Taskforce completed several months ago, during the COVID-19 period.
Last but not least, if you suspect that your neighbour may be having a mental health issue, the best course of action would be to reach out to community leaders at the residents committee, so that they can come in and “triage” with the help of our community partners such as CAL. And of course, what is needed is understanding on all sides.