Mental health awareness starts with being inclusive

On Feb 14, a mass school shooting in Florida killed 17 students and marked a watershed in the history of gun control debate in the United States.

When confronted by Florida students and survivors at a debate last Wednesday, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch pointed to the shooter's mental disorder as the cause of the tragedy, and not firearms.

The terms they used to describe the mentally ill were disconcerting; "deranged", "madman" and "crazy" are negative associations that could warp the public's perception. Portraying mental health in such a manner could deter sufferers from seeking psychiatric help, for fear of the stigma.

While the controversy of firearm possession does not relate to Singapore, mental health is a pertinent issue that concerns every human, community and nation.

It is imperative that we do not stigmatise those who suffer from mental illness and discriminate against them.

The Florida school shooting demonstrates a 19-year-old's desperate call for psychiatric help, which were disguised through his online threats but fell on deaf ears.

This is an urgent time for the Silver Ribbon Project to raise mental health awareness and assistance.

A delay in treatment could lead to a deterioration of the illness and result in an explosion of violence, like what happened in Florida, right here in Singapore.

The key to raising awareness about mental health is inclusiveness and acceptance.

As a society, are we there yet?

Ho Wen Qi (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'Mental health awareness starts with being inclusive'. Print Edition | Subscribe