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Mental illness – there is no taboo, there is no shame

~by: Ghui~


On paper, Singapore is an astonishing success. From a fishing outpost to a world class city. From an island with nothing to a vibrant economy.

Singapore has hosted many international events such as the F1, which showcases all the riches and grandeur we have to offer. Scant attention however, is paid to the less savoury aspects of society that exist in every city. In image conscious Singapore, it is “out of sight, out of mind”. If we hide away the uglier aspects of society, we can pretend that poverty and problems do not exist in our island of utopia.

I am generalising of course. Don't get me wrong, there are many wonderful things about Singapore for which I am grateful for.

However, I cannot help but wonder if the sweeping of problems under the carpet have made us ignorant, shallow, devoid of compassion and empathy. Some might argue that it is the government's policy of promoting economic growth at all cost that is to blame. In pushing growth, the less able have to make way for the "elites" to forge their way forward. Perhaps, but there is no point in laying blame. To go forward, we all have to take collective responsibility.

The double tragedy at Bedok Reservoir highlighted two issues:

  1. a lack of understanding on mental wellbeing and a refusal to acknowledge that mental health issues are real problems that are a part of our society (any society for that matter); and
  2. an absence of compassion and empathy with a strong dose of self righteousness.

Take Glenn Ong's derisive attitude towards people suffering from mental health issues for instance (see HERE). He did not pause to consider the impact of his callous words on people who are grappling with mental illnesses. Nor did he stop to think about how his comments would fuel further ignorance. Is he ignorant himself?

Mental illness is not something that can simply be dismissed as crazy individuals who mumble to themselves in public or who attack others randomly. Indeed, mental health issues are deeply complicated and afflict rich or poor alike. There are also many different types of mental conditions which range in severity.

Depression, Bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia are but some examples of mental illnesses and the symptoms of each could not be more different. As such, mental conditions cannot be pigeon-holed or generalised as "stark raving mad". Many people suffering from these ailments are functioning individuals with jobs and who contribute to society.  They are just like you and I. They simply have problems, which can be treated if adequately addressed.

More than ever, we as a society must come to understand the concept of mental illness. It is not something to be feared. It is simply like any other disease which requires support and treatment. If we can recognise diseases such as cancer, why not mental conditions? If we shy away from a problem, we compound the problem by introducing fear and ignorance. Fear felt by sufferers who dare not ask for help or who may not even realise that they need help and fear by society who is in turn too ignorant to offer the much needed support!

Housewife, Tan Sze Sze clearly needed help and support. Her mind was in a turmoil and more likely than not, she was suffering from some level of depression. Perhaps it was our collective societal ignorance, which led to her inability to recognise the symptoms of depression such that it spiralled out of control?

Maybe if our society had been more open with discussing mental illnesses, this tragedy could have been prevented. Because people do not understand what mental illnesses entail, they do not recognise the symptoms and people who need treatment do not get it. Alternatively, sufferers may realise that they have a problem but refuse to come to terms with it and seek help for it because they fear judgment.

The concepts of mental conditions could possibly be introduced in the education system at secondary school level such that awareness about the existence of such ailments are created at a young age. That way, students will understand it and with understanding, comes acceptance which would in turn, lead to an increased ability to handle and come to terms with the reality mental illnesses. That way, society would be equipped to help people like Tan Sze Sze and prevent a needless tragedy.

At the aftermath of Tan Sze Sze's suicide, people have been fast and furious in adding their two cents worth. Some have condemned her for killing her child. Others have denounced her as a bad mother. Still others have been more concerned with their water supplies and housing prices. In our rush to pass judgment, we have forgotten that she was a person who needed help but was unable to get it. Pushed to a corner, she felt she had no choice.

In desperation, she chose the only option she deemed available.  Is it her fault alone?

I hope that through this, we can collectively work towards preventing another senseless tragedy. Coming to terms with the fact that mental illness exists in all sectors of society in all countries is a start. There is no taboo. There is no shame.

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Picture credit: the|G|™