Mental health is not something we talk about very often. Yet, this is an area in which it is becoming increasingly necessary to have a conversation.
Mental health has become a global issue, and in Singapore, we too have seen that it has grown. The underlying reasons for the worldwide rise in mental health issues have not yet been definitely identified but the fact that it is widespread indicates a wider and broader cause than just the conditions or circumstances which are specific to any one particular country.
The stresses and strains of modern living and the pace of work could be one reason. Another factor could well be the internet and the rise of social media. Unlike before, things we say or that are said against us can go viral in the blink of an eye, bringing with them a flood of communications that can be toxic or vituperative; we are exposed to cyber-bullying, online harassment, doxxing or simply the pressure of invidious comparisons online.
It affects both young and old, but the young are more vulnerable due to age and lack of life experience.
If we want to be a strong society, it is important that we should look after not just our physical health but our mental health as well.
Strategies to ensure mental wellness include having a good understanding of the issue, knowing when and where to seek help and having a strong protective environment that can help those with mental illness and their families to better cope.
The first thing to understand is that mental illnesses cover a wide range of disorders. Some are less serious and easier to treat, others more serious, requiring greater intervention. They include: depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, alcohol abuse and dependence, certain addictions and other disorders, or any combination of these.
Those who suffer from mental illness are often reluctant to seek help or open up for fear that they may be regarded as crazy or discriminated against. Friends and family may not know how to help them. In my dialogues with young people, the issue of mental health often comes up and one feedback that has consistently come up is that young people want to know how to help their friends who suffer from mental illness. They also said that it was difficult to talk about it publicly due to the stigma attached.
Hence if we want to tackle mental illness effectively we must learn to have more open conversations about it and remove the stigma associated with it. We should see mental disorders as not dissimilar from physical illnesses – they are simply medical conditions, which need to be treated, and if treated properly, people can recover and lead happy and fulfilling lives.
I would therefore encourage those with mental health issues not to be afraid to seek out help. In schools, students can approach the school counsellors or their teachers. Adults can approach the Institute of Mental Health or other mental medical practitioners. The key thing is to understand that you are not alone in this battle. If you reach out, help is there. This requires the ability to admit there is a problem – but such admission is also the first step to overcoming the problem and moving forward to a better life.
At the same time, we must also build up a protective environment. This includes helping young people to build up resilience and robustness in their early years so that they can better cope with situations that might lead to mental stress e.g. bullying. Friends and family should provide a supportive loving network so that mental health sufferers do not feel isolated and alone.
Employers can help too – both by being willing to employ those with disclosed mental health conditions provided of course that it would not jeopardise their ability to carry out their jobs and where necessary to give them the time and space to seek out treatment and providing supportive workplaces.
The community can play a part as well, by changing attitudes and mindsets about mental health. We should learn more about the different mental conditions and also how to interact with those who have them. What hurts those with mental health issues most is rejection, derision, mockery or scorn. By being open, accepting, encouraging and educating ourselves on the topic, we can together promote mental wellness and resilience in our society.
Reproduced from a monthly column where pertinent themes and concerns relating to the Indian community are discussed by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance, Second Minister for Education and President, SINDA.