IMH study reveals stigma surrounding mental illness

A nurse helping an elderly patient at Institute of Mental Health.
A nurse helping an elderly patient at Institute of Mental Health.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Nine in 10 people believe that those with a mental illness "could get better if they wanted to", a new study by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) has found.

Half of those surveyed said that such problems are "a sign of personal weakness", while six in 10 also said that such people are "unpredictable".

Researchers said that such stigmatising attitudes may lead people to avoid seeing a doctor and getting diagnosed for fear of being labelled as mentally ill.

The fact, however, is that problems such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and even alcohol abuse often have a biological basis, and can be treated by a health professional.

IMH embarked on the $1 million study a year ago to find out how much Singaporeans know about mental illness.

In addition to how they viewed those with such disorders, respondents were also asked if they could identify one of five common mental illnesses.

These are depression, OCD, alcohol abuse, schizophrenia, and dementia. The first three affect about 12 per cent of the population aged 18 and above.

Those who took the survey were also asked where someone with a mental illness should seek help, and what kind of intervention would be most effective.

In general, those with low education or from lower income groups were less aware of most mental illnesses.

Researchers said that the study provides a good baseline for looking at mental health in Singapore and helps them better understand how to target campaigns to raise awareness about these issues.