Forum: A listening ear can go a long way for those with mental health issues

The prolonged duration of the Covid-19 pandemic with no end date in sight is taking a toll on the mental health of many people.

The stress caused by the economic downturn and decreased social connection has resulted in a rise in mental health issues like anxiety and depression (Experts fear long-term effect on mental health, Aug 20).

Mental health awareness has greatly increased thanks to the Internet, social media and initiatives like Beyond The Label, a national mental health anti-stigma campaign. However, society's understanding of mental health issues and knowledge of how to provide support for those dealing with the issues are still lacking.

Opening up and talking about mental health issues is still very difficult for many. There are many unconscious biases and deeply entrenched stigma regarding the subject, resulting in internalised shame. Some fear being judged, others do not know how to talk about what they are going through. People also choose not to share so as not to burden their loved ones, believing that they would not understand. This may inadvertently lead to a downward spiral of thoughts and emotions.

As someone who has had first-hand experience with mental health issues, I was conflicted about speaking up. I was concerned that my friends would not see me in the same light, and whether they could separate my struggles from my abilities. It was also possible that they would find me too emotionally exhausting and distance themselves.

From my own journey, I realised that having the courage to be vulnerable and speak bravely about one's struggles to others can be a very healing experience for both parties.

We can all do our part as a friend to create a safe environment where people aren't afraid of opening up.

Although this is not a substitute for professional help, sometimes all people need is a little connection, a listening ear from our friends and family whom we trust and care about, who often are the first ones we turn to.

The power of listening and providing a circle of support should not be underestimated. Instead of waiting for people to open up, friends or family members should reach out to them. Sometimes, a simple "How are you doing? I miss you and I'm here for you. Let's catch-up" may work wonders.

Zhang Zhe Xin

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