Forum: Create safe spaces for those in recovery from mental illness

Dr Victor Ho raised pertinent and insightful points about the powerful role that persons in recovery from mental illness can play in sharing their stories and struggles (Share stories of those who are still struggling, Feb 3).

Such stories highlight how persons in recovery come from all levels in society, and how their struggles often go unnoticed by those around them.

As a community mental health agency with more than 50 years of experience working with persons in recovery, we have learnt that the creation of psychologically safe spaces is crucial.

Persons in recovery struggle with self-stigma and shame, and they fear negative repercussions and societal stigma falling on them or on their families.

When they feel psychologically safe and are assured that they will be listened to without judgment or censure, they are more prepared to reveal their emotions and share their personal stories.

In creating safe spaces for persons in recovery to share their challenges and struggles, listeners can find commonality with them and be inspired by them. When listening without judgment and without rushing to offer advice or assistance, we can encourage persons in recovery just by being present with them and allowing them to find their own answers.

The mainstream media can aid or hamper the recovery process. We are encouraged by the great strides the different media forms have made in promoting understanding of mental illness and persons in recovery, as well as encouraging people to seek help early for mental distress.

Recovery stories of Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) staff and clients have been featured in The Straits Times (She once thought she had superpowers to talk to the TV set, May 27, 2020).

However, the media still sometimes depicts people with a mental illness negatively, such as when a news report on a court case states that the accused has a mental health concern. This can reinforce the erroneous belief that all persons with a mental health concern could commit dangerous or criminal acts.

While some people who have mental health concerns may break the law, most persons in recovery are law-abiding and contribute meaningfully to society in different ways, big and small. In fact, they continue to work (10 per cent of SAMH staff are persons in recovery), have fulfilling relationships with their families and friends, and find opportunities to volunteer and advocate for mental wellness for all.

Ngo Lee Yian

Executive Director

Singapore Association for Mental Health

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