Written by: Poh En Xi (20-E3), Pheobe Ong (20-O1)
Designed by: Poh En Xi (20-E3)
Greetings, Eunoians! As we approach our mid-term break after our exams, how are all of you coping with the growing stress? Life in JC is incredibly fast-paced, and it is important to take care of ourselves not just physically, but also mentally. Despite our tendency to ignore the topic of mental health, it is in fact very important. Why is it that this topic brings up so much controversy, and why do we avoid discussing it?
Mental health has been treated as a taboo subject for a very long time and the negative connotations that it brought made it distasteful to bring up in conversations. In the past, people with mental illness were seen as lazy or weak and hence, most people would have just brushed it off or suffered in silence. The views of society on mental health have been largely influenced by its portrayal in the media. In many shows, characters with mental issues are often portrayed as dangerous and violent, and yet frequently played for comic effect as well. How many Hollywood movies star a villain defined purely by the fact that they are ‘crazy’? If people are exposed to the same view of a group of people over and over, they may start unconsciously believing it themselves creating stereotypes in people’s minds, along with stigma towards those that suffer from mental illness. Thus, more people avoid discussions of this topic, which end up exacerbating the problems in a vicious cycle that ends up hurting the affected people more. Governments may also choose to avoid addressing controversial topics like these as they fear that greater awareness on the topic could increase the suggestibility of mental illness to the younger generation. In a quote by Charlotte Catherine Gill from one of Spectator Life’s articles, “thinking about these issues, if they do not affect you, can be worrying. Essentially, in trying to reduce the stigma of mental health, it is possible to increase the suggestibility of it instead.” Hence people avoid the discussion of it as they fear that spreading awareness about mental health might backfire and increase the risk of mental illness instead.
However, it would be unfair to say that people do not wish to increase awareness of mental illness. Many people steer clear of people with mental illness and despite agreeing that the stigma needs to be reduced, they still carry certain misconceptions and stereotypes which lead to them being unconsciously prejudiced against those with mental illness. We tend to think that mental illness is something easy to overcome and that it is the person’s own mindset that is causing their mental illness. Hence we offer quick solutions or apathetic remarks like “get over it” or “appreciate life more”. In an interview done by ChannelNewsAsia (CNA) about mental health, “Comparisons to the self, or others who may have had it worse may act to invalidate one’s struggles to cope. These comparisons often do not serve as encouragement, but instead reinforces the perception that “[We] just don’t understand [them],’”. Our lack of knowledge on mental care leads us to trivialise and dismiss these conditions, and this lack of validation of their problems may cause those suffering from mental illness to suffer alone, afraid to reach out, as they feel like the people around them cannot understand them. For example, comedian and performer Jordan Raskopolous suffers from high functioning anxiety. The stereotypical view of people with anxiety is that they are shy and panic under pressurising scenarios like public speaking; however, Jordan does not feel nervous on stage and in fact, she loves it, yet is terrified when checking her email. Mental illness differs from individual to individual and not many realise this. The result is a generalised label that we force on those in need of help, making it harder for both parties to connect and help each other.
So, what struggles do people with mental illness face? The largest problem may be due to stigma. There are misconceptions that people with mental illness are unstable and cannot be trusted with tasks. According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), five in ten people believe that people with mental illnesses should not be trusted with any responsibility. This has serious implications as it decreases the perceived employability of people with mental health, making it harder for them to find jobs. This may cause them to suffer financially as they are unable to support themselves or their families, and are forced to rely on others as a result. Relying on others may cause them to feel like a burden, which may worsen their condition. They may also be unable to access professional help, as normally, this kind of healthcare is extremely expensive. Sometimes, people with mental illness are unable to cope with the truth of their condition and hence suffer from loneliness and anxiety, making it harder to interact with others and form meaningful relationships. Thus they avoid reaching out to others because they don’t want to set themselves up for heartbreak and rejection. In an article by CNA, a 27-year-old man, Clement (not his real name), who had suffered from mental illness, recounted his father telling him to “get better or get out of the house”. Faced with not knowing how to treat such illnesses can leave loved ones in despair and may leave a growing gap between them. These issues with forming relationships are a large factor in why many people with mental illness think that they’re alone in their struggle and that no one can relate to them–they are rarely able to share how they truly feel or what they struggle with, especially due to fear of stigma from those around them. And if they wanted to seek help, they would have to find ways to support themselves and gain access to affordable treatment, as well as be able to reach out to others without the fear of losing the support of those around them. Achieving this will be increasingly arduous should we not have more open and constructive discussions.
Currently, more steps are being taken in an attempt to educate students about mental health to increase their awareness of it and remove the chance of misconceptions. Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong, for example, has been advocating for mental health education to be made mandatory in schools. Educating students before they begin to form prejudices and stereotypes towards those with mental health is important, as children are more impressionable and are less likely to already have preconceived ideas of what people with mental illnesses are like, as this is rarely portrayed in fiction meant for children. Of course, this educating can be done outside of schools as well. Organisations like the Silver Ribbon host competitions and campaigns to spread awareness about mental illnesses and there have been advertisements and posters used to show the struggles of those with mental illnesses, in order to educate the public on the difficulties they face. However, it is not just awareness of mental illnesses that we ought to be focused on. Thanks to the internet, there is an increasing number of individuals aware of the existence of mental illnesses. However, they are unaware of how to help. More emphasis should be placed on learning as well as developing practising self-care as a habit, making people aware that practising self-care is a necessary soft skill in life, to maintain good mental health. Prevention is better than cure, which remains true in the case of mental illnesses, and these methods can help. We should also be teaching the younger generation to be emotionally sensitive to everyone going through tough times, not just those with mental illnesses. Of course, implementing measures to help those suffering from mental illnesses will always be controversial, as regardless of the implemented measure, views on it will be split. Some people may feel that their countries are wasting too many resources for a small proportion of the population when that manpower and money could be better spent on other things like helping the poor which may be a more pressing issue in certain countries.
Ultimately, it is important to realise that those suffering from mental illnesses are not any different from those suffering from physical illnesses and should not be treated with less respect or care. They are simply people trying their best to cope with their illness much like how others are trying our best to cope with the difficulties in our lives. Mental illness can impact individuals heavily, and people who suffer from it will require the support of family and friends more than general solutions like campaigns. In a world that is becoming steadily more apathetic, it is important that we learn to empathise—and in doing so, help people who may be suffering from issues like this, and break the status quo.
This article was written in the author’s personal capacity. Views, opinions, and thoughts expressed in all articles published on The Origin* belong solely to the author(s), and do not represent the values or ethos of The Origin* or the College