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1 in 7 Singaporeans have a Mental illness. Why most don't seek help.

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Less than a quarter of those experiencing these illnesses have sought help for it.

Every 6 years, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) publishes research on the prevalence of Mental Health in Singapore.

The latest results? Mental illnesses are on the rise in our sunny island country.

The lifetime prevalence of Mental Illness in Singapore saw an increase from 12% in 2010, to 14% in 2016. This means that nearly 1 in every 7 Singaporeans you meet will suffer from Mental Illness at some point in their lives.

That's pretty much on par with the rest of the developed world. With the pandemic turning our lives upside-down and inside-out, I suspect we will see these numbers grow in the 2022 survey.

However, there's another number that the survey shared which I think is even scarier.

78% of those suffering from Mental Illness did not seek help while experiencing it.

In human numbers, that's nearly 8 out of every 10 people experiencing a mental illness not seeking any professional help.

They suffer through it alone.

This is what's known as the Treatment Gap - and it's huge. Why does such a large treatment gap exist? One thought you might have is that maybe they managed to recover all on their own.

Maybe it's like having a fever. You don't need to see a doctor every time your temperature runs a little high right? Just the good old taking a few panadols, staying in bed, sweating it all out and you're back to normal two days later.

Well, not really. Mental illnesses are prolonged states of thinking and emotional difficulties. They last weeks, months, and even years.

So why aren't people seeking help earlier? I would think that with counselling, therapy and learning to build a healthy support base, they would have gotten a lot better much earlier. They would have felt well supported throughout it all.

That is a lot less suffering to go through, right?

Well, here's two reasons why people aren't seeking help in Singapore.

1) Singaporeans don't have a good understanding of what Mental Illnesses really are.

Mental illnesses are not due to any form of weakness, lack of motivation, being possessed by a Pontianak, or whatever nonsense your grandmother told you.

Mental illnesses are brain-based conditions that affect thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Since you and I and every person we know have brains (hopefully) – having some kind of mental health problem during your life is really common.

Mental illnesses are caused by actual structural or chemical changes to your brain. It affects your ability to think, feel, or act in ways that you want to.

It's definitely not something you would choose to have. Like cancer.

It's also not something you should criticise and judge yourself about. It has nothing to do with you being weak or unmotivated.

Your mind is undergoing a change because of any number of reasons, such as a your genetics, an environmental factor, difficult relationships, grief over loss of a love one, childhood traumas, abuse or exposure to violence.

For some, these brain changes means experiencing extreme and unexpected changes in mood – like feeling more sad or anxious than normal. For others, it means not being able to think clearly, not being able to communicate with someone who is talking to them, or having bizarre thoughts to help explain weird feelings they are having.

Just like understanding what the symptoms of cancer look like, you can learn more about what Mental Illness really entails and what are the symptoms associated with Mental Illnesses.

Mental illnesses aren't all about hearing voices in your head or seeing things that aren't there either. The two most common Mental illnesses in Singapore are actually Depression and Anxiety Disorders. Do read up more on what some warning signs might be.

That way, you'll be able to recognise symptoms yourself and help a love one to seek professional help when they need it.

For an overview, I encourage you to check out this article What are Mental Illnesses? The most common types in Singapore.

2) People are very afraid of Mental Health Stigma.

This is the intentional or even unintentional discrimination against people who experience mental illness. In Singapore, a strong social stigma is still rampant when discussing matters related to Mental Health.

People with mental health problems can experience this stigma in many aspects of their lives, including their jobs, careers, and friends and family. Nearly 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives.

Stigma translates to a fears of being judged for having a mental illness:

  • Will people make fun of me if I saw a Mental Health professional?

  • What happens if I get diagnosed with a mental disorder? Will my workplace find out?

  • What happens if I shared this with my friends and family, will they judge and criticise me?

  • Will my friends avoid or make fun of me?

Mental Stigma prevents people from seeking help, even when they really need it. We have to stop Mental Health Stigma in Singapore, and come to understand that mental health illnesses are the same as every other physical illness, such as any kind of cancer, diabetes or heart problems.

This is a shocking statistic, but 6 in 10 Singaporeans believe that mental illness is caused by a lack of self-discipline and willpower. In my humble opinion. that's absolute bullshit, but goes to show the state of our awareness of Mental Illness in Singapore.

One really ironic thing is that 50% of Singaporeans don't want to live or work with a person with a Mental Health Condition, but yet 80% believe that they will get better if the person is included as part of the community.

Simi sai? Stop being so hypocritical la. It's machiam "I hope you get better, but er... someone else will help you lah. Not me". Typical bystander mentality.

Below are more statistics from the Straits Times.

At the very least, 90% of those surveyed think that people should be tolerant to those with mental health illnesses. Who is the 10% though - do you torture kittens in your free time too?

So, what are some of your beliefs about mental health? If you don't have experience with mental illness, ask yourself what kind of beliefs you have about mental health.

You can also learn what stigma sounds like in conversations. Please do check out my article 8 things Singaporeans say that keep Mental stigma alive and rampant.

Why not learn the basics of supporting someone with a Mental illness?

Given the that 1 in 7 people you meet might suffer from a Mental Health condition, probability suggests that there is at least one person in your life right now who could use a bit of support.

Here's 7 helpful tips when speaking to someone suffering from mental health:

  1. Listen attentively and don't judge. Try being a good listener and actively listen. Repeat what the person says back to them to check if you understood it correctly. Even if you don’t agree with what they say, respect their feelings by showing you understand how they feel. Every person's experience in unique. What has helped you might not help them.

  2. Do not dismiss them when they share about their problems. Give the person time and space to share. Don't rush or pressure them to tell him things that they're not ready to talk about. You might be the first person they have been able to talk to about this.

  3. Don't try to diagnose them, if you're not a mental health expert! Sure you might have read something on some random blog like this one, but that doesn't make you an expert! Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.

  4. Don’t be quick to offer solutions. We tend to like to give advice, even when people don't need or want it. It's a really annoying behaviour. If there was a problem that needed solving, that person would have thought of it already. Instead offer care and support. Listen.

  5. Tell them that you'll be there for them if they need it. It's always great to know that there are people around to care for you when you need it.

  6. Give people with mental health conditions the same level of respect and dignity you would to anyone else. Again it's about eradicating Mental Health Stigma and allowing people to seek help without having to worry about any societal consequences.

  7. Encourage the person to seek help. Try saying “I appreciate you sharing the struggles you are going through. I was wondering if you have considered seeking help from a counsellor or a doctor.” If they are willing, even suggest that you're happy to accompany them to see one.

If you have a Mental illness, talk to someone. It's as confidential as you want it to be.

Yes. Stigma can be scary, but so is going at it alone. Stop carrying that heavy load all by yourself. You don't have to worry about any repercussions in the future. What you need now is support.

There are plenty of anonymous hotlines out there, you could even try a confidential meeting with a Psychologist or Psychotherapist. Whatever it is, your mental health is the most important thing.

And know this, you can get better

Thanks for reading this article. I hope our beautiful country learns to be much more aware and accepting that Mental Illnesses, like any other illnesses, is a norm. We should learn to encourage those who need help to seek it, or at the very least, be a kind human who's there to support them.


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