Why We Must Support Mental Illness Better

Mental health issues are stigmatised and trivialised in Asian societies. Consider our culture that creates the kind of perspective mental health issues are viewed: Fast paced and high pressure environments, lack of knowledge by many in society, and the preconceived notion that mental health is a Western construct that merits no place in Asian collectivist societies. These factors hinder the progression of handling mental health issues and people with mental illness.

Despite these issues, topics of mental health and mental illness surface frequently in social discourse because of its prevalence and significance. Regular news articles about suicide highlight a brewing problem of depression, addiction, anxiety or other mental conditions. This illustrates that mental illness is inescapable in every society, regardless if a society deems it important or not. Its prevalence taps across various demographic and cultural barriers, affecting people of all ages, socioeconomic status, gender, race and religion.

Unfortunately, the difficulties faced by people with mental illness do not stop at battling the disorder themselves. Individuals suffering from mental illness are challenged two-fold: they not only face the challenges brought about by their mental illness but the environment in which they try to recover also plays an important role in determining their progress. Because of the stigmatising climate and cultural perspective of a society towards mental illness, there is an aversion to seek help for people battling these issues. This barrier often discourages individuals to seek help out of fear or judgement. On a personal level, self-stigma may also discourage people from getting better as they are convinced by the very same destructive and misguided notion a society views mental illness.

We must recognise how society at large can impact how mental health issues are handled. We create the society we live in; the environment that breeds and gives rise to mental illness and the climate that determines recovery for people with mental illness. Mental illness is an issue that we cannot ignore— it is an issue that has a voice and it warrants us to listen to it, act on it and make progressive strides for it.

Now this calls into question, “what can we do about it?”. The key to supporting mental illness begins in awareness. When we are made aware of the realities of mental illness, we better recognise its significance not only in our lives but in others as well. In Singapore, 1 in 10 people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. We must support mental illness better because it is an essential step to acceptance, recovery and more importantly positive change in a society’s depiction and perspective of mental health issues. We can start by changing negative perspectives and viewing mental health issues in a positive light. It is important to recognise that mental illness is an equally significant health care issue that warrants diagnosis and treatment. The burden of care of mental illness ranks on par with many other physical illnesses. It also helps that we continue to educate ourselves on these matters. Knowledge drives access to support and change, and the more we know about mental illness, the better we can seek help and help others. More than keeping an open mind, we can also keep discussion flowing: talk to someone and listen to others about these issues. In time, we start to notice that the more we talk about mental illness and the more we support it, we slowly create a supportive environment that encourages individuals to seek the help that they deserve.

Written by Nicolle Groves