Be empathetic towards anyone with mental illness

Ms Amberyce Ang Xing Yee meant well when she suggested that we separate dementia from other mental illnesses, and reduce the stigmatisation that people with dementia face (Community effort crucial in helping those with dementia; Sept 16).

However, doing so may potentially perpetuate the stigma against people with other mental illnesses.

Mental illness has to do with changes in the chemistry of the brain structures - which also occurs in a mind with dementia.

Most people with mental illness are not violent or dangerous; the public need not fear or isolate them from the community, or call the police to apprehend them.

By further stigmatising this vulnerable group of people, the painstaking efforts made by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and other groups and advocates to help them reintegrate into society are undermined.

We should empathise with the mentally ill.

We should be mindful of terms like "mentally unsound", "insane" or "lunatic". Would it not be better to call them "people with depression" or "people with schizophrenia" and so on?

Certainly, it may be difficult for laymen to correctly recognise the signs of dementia and know it as being separate from other mental illnesses.

If necessary, those who encounter such sufferers should refer them to the IMH rather than call the police.

Lee Kay Yan (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'Be empathetic towards anyone with mental illness'. Print Edition | Subscribe