8 things Singaporeans say that keep Mental Health Stigma alive.
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Know a friend who says some of these things? Let them know they might be preventing people who need help from seeking it.
Mental health issues affect one in every seven Singaporeans. It's very likely there is someone in your life now that could use some support.
One of the barriers that prevents someone from seeking professional help, is the fear of repercussions in their careers, family and social lives.
They might worry about being judged for having a mental illness, or whether people will think lesser of them for seeing a Psychiatrist or Psychologist. Because of the Stigma attached, friends and family might shun them.
They may also be concerned about what would happen if their workplaces find out they have depression, even though a visit to a Psychiatrist or Psychologist is entirely confidential.
All these concerns stem from Mental Health Stigma. It's such a serious issue that nearly 80% of those experiencing a mental illness don't seek help.
So yes. Mental health stigma is very much alive in Singapore.
Everybody can play a part.
Even if you personally don't know someone who is experiencing a mental illness, you can play your part by gaining a better understanding of mental illnesses as well as being aware of what contributes to stigma in singapore.
So here's eight things people say that actually keep mental health stigma alive in Singapore, as well as what to say instead.
1) "Oh, you just need to be more motivated".
Well this one infuriates me, but it's based on a very scary statistic that was published in the Straits Times. 60% of Singaporeans believe that Mental Illnesses are caused by a lack of willpower and self-discipline.
Essentially, that's like saying it's the person's very own fault that he or she is now experiencing a mental illness!
The truth is, if anybody can be called motivated, it's the people who are experiencing depression, anxiety or any number of personality disorders each and everyday.
When you're battling your thoughts and your own mind, it's not easy to even get out of bed sometimes. It's not the person's choice that they are suffering right now. Mental illnesses are brain-based conditions caused by genetics, structural, and chemical changes to the brain.
Instead of saying this, we can learn to give them some motivation instead. Try:
"Wow. Sorry to hear you're experiencing these difficulties. I'm very proud of you that you are able to talk about it and get through each day".
2) "Oh, you have Depression? But your life isn't that tough..."
Does anyone consciously choose to have depression or any other mental illness?
Likewise, does anyone choose to have cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or any other physical illness?
Yes, despite it being called a 'mental' illness, it's also caused by neurological and chemical changes to the brain and body. Environmental factors are at play too, especially ones that you may not know that are going on in the person's life.
We never know what kind of struggles someone might be going through internally, or even the kind of struggles they've had while growing up or in their current relationships or work.
Just because someone carries it well doesn't mean it isn't heavy.
Instead we can learn to say:
"Hey, thanks for sharing that with me. I'm always here to offer a listening ear whenever you need okay?"
3) "It's because he's mentally weak".
I literally just heard this a few weeks ago. One of my basketball friends got admitted into the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for overdosing on sleeping pills. I heard about it from another friend, the guy responsible for making the above statement.
He's not the only one, with half of Singaporeans believing so as well.
Well, let's think about it this way. Did you know that some of the world's greatest inventors, actors, artists, authors and political heroes who have achieved great things with their lives also suffer from a mental illness.
For example, Ryan Reynolds, Issac Newton, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens. The list goes on.
So, it's not about being weak-minded at all. Beyond the biological basis of mental illnesses, there may be all sorts of childhood traumas that might have happened in the person lives, or current difficulties beyond your imagination.
Why not we try to relate instead, and say:
"Hey, I really don't know what you're going through. I would like to know more though. Do feel free to call me up whenever you need".
4) "Really? I couldn't have guessed you had Anxiety problems. You look totally fine to me!"
Oh right, sorry that people don't wear T-shirts displaying the mental illnesses they are going through.
"Hi. I'm Depressed. Make a joke and cheer me up."
Again, some people carry their loads very well, even though it may be unimaginably heavy and slowly wearing them down inside.
They're putting up a brave face to the world. Why? Perhaps because they are terrified of what people think of them if they find out they have a mental health condition.
You and I might even be the first person they are telling, so why not we learn to say:
"I'm sorry to hear that but I'm glad you're sharing this with me. Come let's grab a coffee and tell me more about what you're going through."
5) "Ya. She's just being attention-seeking lah".
Do I really need to comment on this one? If people don't understand this, they should be ashamed of themselves. Seriously.
"Oh look at all her scars. So attention-seeking".
"Why do you need to talk about your depression so much. Come come I give you attention".
The worst thing about these comments is that it's preventing people who need help from actually asking for help. They worry that by asking for help, they will be thought of as being attention-seeking and become a burden to others.
If you know a person that has so much energy to say such useless things, why not ask them to use that energy to be empathetic instead? Try:
"Hey, thanks for telling me this. You're being very brave."
6) "It's because you're only thinking about yourself. Others are worse off than you...".
This is saying that people who have mental illnesses are just being selfish. Unfortunately, some people really think that way.
Experience is relative. Just because someone isn't homeless, dirt poor, jobless, or aren't missing a hand or leg doesn't mean they aren't going through something difficult.
Selfishness is definitely not the reason why people experience mental health issues! Again, it's not a choice!
If people aren't able to talk about their problems, who can they turn to? This might even be one of the reasons why they are experiencing mental health troubles in the first place.
Be aware that by talking about it, people are actually turning to us for support and help. Let's learn to listen instead. Simply say:
"Thanks for reaching out. Please tell me all, I'm all ears."
7) "Ya I very OCD. Like things neat neat" or "Aiyo, damn scary. I PTSD liao".
Ah hah! I'm sure you're guilty of this one! Am I right?
Well, don't feel to bad. It's become a near daily lingo for many for us. Yet, think about the consequences of this - We've started to trivialise mental health conditions.
When these terms are used in passing conversations or when we use them to make fun of someone, we are actually transmitting inaccurate information about mental health conditions to people who don't know any better.
What happens when a person who actually suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) wants to talk about it? OCD is in fact a really difficult condition where your mind is blasting you with recurring and unwanted thoughts. You can't help but be compelled to behave in certain ways, even though you yourself are aware that your thoughts are irrational.
A person who doesn't know any better might then come along and say "Aiya, I also got OCD. Just don't be so neat lah."
Is that a form of Stigma? Well my friend, yes it is.
8) "You just have to snap out of it".
Wow. Know a moron who would say this?
Please inform him or her that they've just put all nurses, doctors, pharmacists, occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, pediatricians, gynecologists, dentists, and all other health-care workers out of a job.
They are miracle workers. Please tell them to go to Tan Tock Seng and work their magic on all the patients. While they're at it, ask them to cure the world of Corona-virus.
With a few magic words, they can help people to snap out of any disease, physical or mental.
Oh what? It only works on mental illness? Why is that? Didn't you read any of what was written in all the above points?
In all seriousness, here's the sad truth. Nine in Ten Singaporeans believe that those with a mental disorder "could get better if they wanted to".
They just need to snap out it, like it was a situation that they willingly chose to put themselves into in the first place.
This simple statement is the amalgamation of all the above points. It's extremely stigmatising and goes to show how poorly mental illnesses are understood in Singapore.
Why seek help? Just snap out of it.
Let's stop this nonsense, Singapore. Let's learn to become more open-minded, listen better, and be kind to those who need it. We can make the world a better place, and it starts from each and every on of us.