The following article was my contribution to BERITA Mediacorp (Singapore) to commemorate World Mental Health Day 2021. It was written in Malay. I have translated it for this blog.
10 October is World Mental Health Day. It aims to raise awareness of mental health issues worldwide and to mobilize efforts to support mental health.
To the general public, discussing mental health openly can still be a challenge. A 2017 study by the National Council of Social Services (NCSS, 2018) found that seven out of 10 respondents believe that persons with mental health conditions experience stigma and discrimination in their daily lives. The same study also found that more than five out of 10 respondents were not ready to live, live nearby or work with individuals that have mental health conditions.
The government and social service agencies that developed and run public awareness programmes hoped to ease discussing mental health issues more openly because they affect every level of society - from school children, youths, workers, young mothers, caregivers to the chronically ill, to elderlies living alone and isolated.
Mental health issues that are not addressed sufficiently can lead to mental disorders. Early intervention is necessary to prevent the condition from worsening. In terms of cost, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) recently estimated it to be at $1.7 billion a year to manage the six common mental health disorders.
Stigma and Misconceptions
Sometimes, persons with mental health conditions are referred to as 'crazy', 'demented', 'loony' and other labels that are derogatory. Often they are given by family members to explain behaviours that appear odd or out of the norms of everyday life. This adds to the stigma that having poor mental health is an embarrassment to the family.
Disturbance to mental health affects daily life. Individuals with mental health conditions may hide their conditions out of fear of being terminated from their jobs or not being accepted for employment if they are exposed.
There are misconceptions that linked mental health conditions to chronic mental illness which lead to persons with mental health conditions avoiding seeking early treatment. Another belief is that the condition may have stemmed from paranormal disturbance, black magic or poor spiritual strength. Thus, the treatment is inclined towards seeking spiritual healers.
Mental Health is Beyond Mental Illness
Mental health includes emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Our level of mental health will determine how we deal with stress, how we make choices and how we interact with the people around us.
Each of us will encounter life stressors that will affect our mental health. Changes in life stages like the challenges of going through adolescence, getting married, becoming parents, facing divorce, losing a life partner; all can lead to stress. For children, the trauma of parental abuse, bullying in school, or growing up in a multi-stressed family can affect their mental well-being. Elderlies face issues of mental health too, for instance: when living with debilitating chronic illnesses that affect the quality of life, being abused or neglected by their children, or living isolated from social support.
Recently, the lifestyle changes brought about by the COVID19 pandemic have also resulted in many mental health issues like anxieties and depression. There were those who were even more affected, leading to suicide.
It is clear that mental health is beyond just having a mental illness.
Be Mindful of the Early Signs of Mental Disturbance
Thus, we need to be mindful of individuals around us, as well as ourselves, who might already be showing signs of deteriorating mental health so that early treatment and intervention could be rendered.
These are some of the early signs:
Difficulty in doing or focussing on daily tasks
Sleeping or eating too much/too little
Feeling helpless, hopeless, or listless
Avoiding interaction with others or doing the normal daily activities
Sighing and complaining about vague aches and pains
Irritable and quick-tempered
Being forgetful, confused or unnecessarily worried.
Exessive smoking, drinking or using drugs to numb feelings/ forget their troubles
Feeling like nothing matters anymore
Feeling like harming self or others
Sometimes, as family members, we do not notice these signs because we are kept busy with our own lives and daily tasks. We only begin to focus when the person with the mental health condition begins to exhibit more noticeable behaviours that are outside of the norm.
That is why it is important for us to be more mindful in our relationships. When we take the time to ask about each other, show care, and consider any change, no matter how small, as worthy of concern; then we will be able to detect the disturbance in the person's mental health.
Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
Paying attention to your mental health will help you manage your stress. You will be a more productive person, able to contribute to your family and community.
Make time to take care of your mental health: be physically active, watch what you eat, get enough rest and sleep, look at life positively, help those in need, enhance and strengthen relationships, and learn to deal with life challenges. Most importantly, seek professional help when you need it.
Life is filled with challenges. However, the challenges that come your way are also opportunities for you to build resilience if you are open to seeking and accepting help from your available social support.
If you need help with your mental health issues, here are useful links and contacts ( in Singapore):
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) provides confidential emotional support to individuals facing a crisis, thinking about or affected by suicide. It focuses on crisis intervention and suicide prevention
Institute of Mental Health offers a comprehensive range of psychiatric, rehabilitative and counselling services for children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.
Counselling and Care Centre provides counselling and therapy for individuals, couples and families.
Singapore Mental Health Association (SAMH) provides a broad range of services which include counselling, creative services, outreach activities, rehabilitation, skills training and job opportunities.
Goh, Y. H. (2021, October 9). Societal cost of 6 common mental health disorders estimated at $1.7b yearly: IMH study. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/societal-cost-of-6-common-mental-health-disorders-estimated-at-17b-yearly-institute-of
National Council of Social Services (2018, September 8). NCSS launches first nationwide campaign to fight mental health stigma [Press release].