Fighting the Social Stigma of Mental Health
Growing up in Singapore, I was constantly reminded by others that people with mental disorders were siao or “crazy”. However, when I entered Secondary School, I learned 2 things. The first is that people with mental disorders were not like what I was told when I was younger – insane. The second, and very shockingly, is that the majority of Singaporeans, including youths, have the exact same mentality that I had.
In the 2017 National Council of Social Service (NCSS) Study on Attitudes toward Persons with Mental Conditions in Singapore, it was found that more than 5 in 10 are not willing to live with, nearby or work with a person with mental health conditions. The Singapore Mental Health Survey (SMHS) 2016 also showed that 78.4% of Singaporeans with mental health conditions did not seek treatment.
The findings of this study emphasise the need to dispel stigma and correct the mindset of the public, especially youths, towards those with mental health conditions. Being the future leaders of the nation, youths will have to change their mentality towards those with mental health conditions. It is also important that those with mental disorders change their attitude towards seeking mental help and take the first step to overcome their conditions.
The Prevalence of Mental Health Conditions
In March 2019, the American Psychological Association released their findings of a survey done on mental health issues in young adults. The survey looked at responses from more than 200,000 youths aged 12-17 between 2005 and 2017, and almost 400,000 adults aged 18-25 between 2008 and 2017. (American Psychological Association, 2019)
12-17 y/o (%)
18-25 y/o (%)
|Symptoms consistent with major depression in the last 12 months||8.7||13.2||52||8.1||13.2||63|
|Experienced serious psychological distress in the previous 30 days||7.7||13.1||71|
|Have suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes||7.0||10.3||47|
Table 1.1 Table showing the results of the survey done by American Psychological Association
From the results of the study, it can be seen that over a period of about 10 years, there was an increase of youths with symptoms indicating possible mental disorders by an average of 58%. This shows that the number of youths with mental health conditions are growing over the years, and that mental illnesses are more prevalent in our society.
According to a report by Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) in 2018, suicide is the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29. With a total of 397 lives lost to suicide, there are 2.8 times more deaths from suicide than there are from transport accidents. It was also noted that for every suicide, there are at least 6 suicide survivors left behind. Suicide survivors refer to the family and friends of someone who was a victim of suicide. Though the impact on suicide survivors has not been studied extensively, there are many anecdotal sharing on survivor guilt, such as this article
Generally, the cause of suicide stems from underlying mental health conditions such as stress or depression. As youths with mental health conditions gradually increase in our society, there is a greater need to tackle the problem of their misconceptions toward seeking (psycho)therapy.
Effects of Mental Disorders
In order to destigmatise the misconceptions toward seeking therapy, there is a need to understand that suffering from mental health conditions is normal. It is also important that those who suffer from them seek mental help as soon as possible because this does not affect only themselves, but also those around them.
- Decreased quality of life
- Educational difficulties
- Lowered productivity
- Social problems
- Vulnerability to abuse
- Additional health problems and stressors
It is noted that poverty and mental health conditions “interact in a negative cycle” where poverty acts as a risk factor to mental disorders, while mental disorders increase the risk that individuals will “drift into or remain in poverty”. (Unite for Sight, n.d.)
The effects on individuals can also be negatively affected by the public’s stigma towards those with mental health conditions. In 2001, a study found that 5 to 6 million U.S. workers aged 16 to 54 years “lose, fail to seek, or cannot find employment” due to mental illness. Of those who were employed, mental illness was estimated to reduce their annual income by $3,500 to $6,000. (Marcotte et. al., 2001)
Generally, the family of individuals with mental health conditions are often unable to work at full capacity due to the demands of caring for them, leading to a reduction in household income. This will eventually put these households at an increased risk of poverty. Family members may also experience feelings of stress due to the various challenges of caring for individuals with mental health conditions.
From the caregivers’ point of view, they may develop feelings of stress associated with care, such as possible violence and intra-family conflict. (Unite for Sight, n.d.)
The impacts of mental illnesses can vary from country to country, but the common one is the significant costs to society. In 2001, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that mental health problems cost developed nations about 3-4% of their gross national product (GNP). When expenditures on treatment and loss of productivity are both taken into account, the WHO estimated that mental disorders cost national economies several billion dollars annually. (World Health Organization, 2003)
Apart from financial repercussions, mental health conditions can exacerbate other public health issues, increasing the burden on national economies and impeding international public health efforts. For instance, mental disorders are associated with increased risk of non-adherence to medical regimens for other health conditions, such as improper or incomplete use of medication. There are also risks of them exhibiting dangerous behaviours, violence and incarceration, though very rare. (Unite for Sight, n.d.)
Taking the First Step
In 2018, former TV actor and show host Adrian Pang was interviewed by former Mediacorp artiste Andie Chen on his YouTube channel, Vagabond. In this interview, Adrian opens up about dealing with depression.
“In my experience, it [not feeling as happy as you think you should be] can creep up on you when you least expect it.” according to the Director of Pangdemonium!. “I mean certainly for me this time around it’s crept up on me with no warning. It just comes [and] like a little demon, it just latches onto me and whispers things into my ear, and it’s quite scary. It can be very disconcerting because it makes you question your choices and question your whole life […]”.
As Adrian has mentioned, dealing with depression can get really intimidating, and it is the same for other forms of mental health conditions. However, he is not dealing with it alone as he has mentioned that he has gone through therapy to help him with his feelings. This is also apparent as there are more youths seeking early mental help through services such as the TOUCH Youth Intervention (TYI) and the Beyond The Label campaign, a movement which addresses the stigma faced by individuals with mental disorders in society. With more people stepping up to seek mental help, it is crucial that those with prolonged mental distress do the same in order to fight the stigma.
Overcome your Psychological Hurdle Early
Young adults in their 20s and 30s are facing many crucial changes and developmental tasks. They are no longer in a structured environment where success is defined by things like academic results or friends. Young adults have to define their personhood, their societal standing, and what really matters to them. These are only a few of the backdrop challenges in which they have to find the answers for themselves. The answers to these challenges lie within their psychological make-up, which in turn will shape their choices and experience in areas such as family life, career aspiration, financial management and everything else.
Our founder, Ms Sarah Poh, encourages young people to seek psychotherapy early:
“I remember many clients of mine who have lived under the influence of their negative upbringing and do not know better in how else to feel and live differently. Time lost, opportunities slipped by. I will say, the earlier we become aware of the impact of the first twenty years of our lives, the easier and freer our years ahead will be.”
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American Psychological Association. (2019, March 15). Mental health issues increased significantly in young adults over last decade: Shift may be due in part to rise of digital media, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2020 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190315110908.htm
Unite for Sight. (n.d.). Module 1: Introduction to Global Mental Health: Effects of Mental Health on Individuals and Populations. Retrieved 20 April, 2020 from https://www.uniteforsight.org/mental-health/module1#_ftnref6
Marcotte, D.E., Wilcox-Gok, V. (2001). Estimating the employment and earnings costs of mental illness: Recent developments in the United States. Social Science & Medicine, 53 (1): 21-27.
World Health Organization. 2003. “Investing in Mental Health”. Retrieved 20 April, 2020
Dion is a Therapy Specialist who tends to the needs of those that reach out to The Therapy Platform. His goal is to get as many people with mental health conditions to seek mental help while guiding them through the process of seeking a therapist.
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