person's psyche - as well as a lack of understanding - of the people who suffer from these illnesses, and the trials and tribulations they face in their daily lives.
To most, mental illness is a distant notion, a 'thing' in the media that 'people' like to talk about. The opportunity to interact with people who have been affected by these illnesses changes that, and we realise that they are not too different from us. They too have families to support, daily needs to fulfil and aspirations and dreams. But all these are are made more difficult by the illness that they have.
In Mind Matters: A Study of Mental Health Literacy, a nationwide study conducted among adult residents aged 18-65 years in Singapore by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) obtained information on Singaporeans' recognition and beliefs about five common mental disorders - alcohol abuse, dementia, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia. The study also examined and compared the extent of stigma associated with these mental disorders.
Some of the interesting results of the study were:
- 9 in 10 people believe that those with a mental illness "could get better if they wanted to"
- Half believed that mental illnesses are "a sign of personal weakness"
- Mental health literacy regarding specific conditions, especially Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia was poor.
So why do people think about mental illness in such a way? Psychologist Guy Winch, in his TED talk "Why we all need to practice emotional first aid", makes an interesting point. It is easy for us to go to someone with a mental health issue and say, "It's all in your head, why don't you just snap out of it?". Yet how often do we walk up to someone with a broken leg, and say, "It's all in your leg, why don't you just walk it off?"
The reason, we believe, is that we tend not to understand mental illness as much as we do other ailments of the body. As a result, there is a stigma that surrounds mental health, and it has very real effects on people who have mental illness. Mental illnesses are just like any other disease. Why are we so eager to treat heart diseases or diabetes and yet so reluctant to approach mental illnesses? No, these patients could not just 'get better' if they wanted to, and no it is definitely not a sign of weakness.
This misunderstanding is an example of the perpetual social stigma facing mental health in Singapore. This is the social stigma which prevents patients from seeking help, the stigma which even some of our own family and friends have. This is the stigma that we are trying to change.
Let's change the way we view mental illnesses today.
we weren't given the opportunity to learn psychiatry, and interact with patients who suffer from mental illnesses, we would probably think the same way. The reason for this, we realised, is a lack of awareness - of the conditions, the impact they can have on a