Mr Tan Kwang Cheak, CEO, AIC

Mr Tan Kwang Cheak is the Chief Executive Officer of Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) or AIC in short.

He attended CAL’s C2C Training Programme in 2020, during his personal journey as a caregiver. He found it very useful and beneficial, and felt that the network of support built around the programme was important for caregivers.

AIC is a key partner and funder to CAL. The funds received, together with donations from generous donors, allows CAL to continue to provide fully-funded C2C Programmes to caregivers of persons with mental health issues and dementia.

Do you think there’s generally an improvement in the stigma around mental health?

As we all will agree, “there is no health without mental health”. My view is that Singaporeans in general have become more comfortable to talk about mental health issues such as depression and dementia over time. This is a healthy development that helps to reduce the stigma related to mental health issues, and encourages those who need help to seek it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought greater attention and focus to the importance of mental well-being, and supporting mental health of all of us. In particular, there has also been an increase in focus on supporting the mental wellbeing of seniors, especially seniors who may lack social or family support. Based on research, a key determinant of health is social engagement or interaction. Beyond these, we have indeed seen a greater focus on initiatives that support groups across the spectrum of ages, including working professionals at workplaces.

In AIC, we have been working hard with our partners to reach out and engage our seniors, particularly vulnerable ones, and provide care and support to them, including linking them up with befriending programmes to prevent social isolation. In addition, we partner with the Ministry of Health to develop the Community Mental Health masterplan to ensure that persons with mental health are well supported in the community. We work with our partners to build an integrated community mental health network across various care settings and sectors to support persons with mental health issues and their caregivers.

What words of advice do you have for caregivers, especially to caregivers of persons with mental health issues and also dementia?

My advice is firstly to not just understand with our mind, but also empathise with our heart. Once we have done that, then as caregivers we can better support our loved ones in their recovery journey. Secondly, self-care. As caregivers providing care, we often forget that we need care as well; we need to be kind to ourselves, to take a break or a brief respite as we go on with our loved ones. Finally, finding support from other caregivers as well as providing support to them, can be a beneficial and empowering process.

You mentioned that you are a caregiver too. Would you be comfortable to share about your caregiving journey?

My colleagues often remind me that we are all caregivers, now or at some point in our life. This is very true. It never quite hit me, personally, until the need to provide care came. I am the secondary caregiver to my loved one, while my wife is the primary caregiver. At the start of this journey, it was not easy and we experienced concerns, anxiety and emotional stress. However, we gained more clarity after the condition was diagnosed, and we were able to gradually move forward in terms of what to do next as caregivers.

My wife and I both then attended CAL’s C2C Programme to equip ourselves with the right skills and knowledge. Beyond the content of the programme, what I found powerful was the sharing from the other caregiver participants. It was a personal realisation that I am not alone and that I can also do more to help others in the same situation.