Leela Jesudason knows first-hand that mental illness can tear a family apart.
Her nephew, Sujay Sutherson, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, stabbed his mother to death in 2012. He had stopped taking his medication, and following an argument with her, had grabbed a knife and attacked her multiple times, almost decapitating her. Sujay was later jailed for life.
In response to the tragedy, Leela rallied her older brother Daniel, psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow, and IT professional Eric Lee, to start Psalt Care in 2013. It runs support groups for those living with mental illness and addictions, as well as for their caregivers. The groups are facilitated by trained Peer Support Specialists, who have themselves recovered from mental illness. “They’re very empathetic,” Leela says. “Beyond medication, you need a support group so you don’t go back to that dark space.”
Psalt Care was also a way for her to cope with losing her sister. “There’s a lot of guilt that I deal with because I feel I could have done more,” she says. “Maybe I won’t be able to change the world, but if I can do a little bit – then at least I’ll feel like I’ve done something.”
In 2014, Psalt Care was recognised as a charity by the National Council of Social Service, and now has its own executive director. So far, it has helped 300 people. Still, Leela – who has a full-time job in public relations – feels there’s more to be done, like getting people to stay on their medication, and creating an environment where people feel safe talking about mental illness. “We should talk about mental health the way we do about headaches, or stomach aches. We need to normalise it, and not make people feel ashamed.”
(Photo: Her World)