Patient's ailment drove elderly mum to sleep in stairwell

Madam Mainam Mahmud, 78, spent three months sleeping in the stairwell outside her Havelock Road flat.

There was no space for her to rest well at night in the two-room flat as her daughter, Ms Julia Abdullah, who has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), was a hoarder.

She would also spend five hours a day in the shower to shampoo her hair 25 times and wash her hands 300 times.

It meant that her elderly mother had to use the public toilet at a nearby wet market to bathe and wash clothes instead.

As the relationship with her daughter soured, she avoided going home and spent her days walking around the neighbourhood with a trolley filled with her belongings.

"Her health worsened as she had arthritis, yet she had to sleep at the staircase landing and she got wet when it rained," said Ms Julia, 43.

"At that time, I was so caught up with my own mental issues that I failed to take care of her."

All this happened six years ago. After receiving treatment at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Ms Julia's condition improved, although she still washes her hands 15 times a day. 

However, she regrets the toll her illness has taken on her mother, who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted into a nursing home after having a heart attack. 

"Thankfully, there were some counsellors from the charities who came by at that time to explain my condition to her so she became more forgiving and returned home to patch things up with me," said Ms Julia. 

It was a similarly heartbreaking experience for the Tan family. When 14-year-old John (not his real name) was diagnosed with OCD in 2007, his family was not prepared to endure all the agony and stress that came with it.

John had various fears. He could not leave the house to go to school as he feared being hit by bird droppings along the way. He could not stay at home as he imagined the floor to be covered in soap.

His taxi driver father would accompany him to the arcade or playground till 1am or 2am every night to distract him.

When John was at home, he would constantly bombard his mother with various questions, all revolving around the topic of whether he was clean.

If she did not answer him or manage to reassure him, he would turn aggressive.

"It became so bad and tiring for me that I had suicidal thoughts and I thought of moving back to my mother's place so that I wouldn't have to see him," said John's mother, Ms Karen Tan, 51.

Ms Tan and Ms Julia said having a support group would have helped caregivers or family members of people with OCD to cope better.

"Either a support group for my mum to learn from others about how to care for me or a befriender service so that at least someone can check on her daily needs when I was unwell," said Ms Julia.

Ms Tan, an administrator, added: "It would be good if there was an affordable daycare centre equipped with staff who can deal with his condition to tend to him sometimes, so that I can have some respite after a long day at work."

This article was first published on Jan 3, 2015.
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