Forum: Share stories of those who are still struggling with mental health issues

I refer to an article on the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) website, On-Going Public Education On Mental Health Issues And Advocacy Can Help Remove Stigma, by Mr Raymond Anthony Fernando.

Mr Fernando mentioned that letters that are published in the mainstream media can be effective in not only raising more awareness of mental health issues, but also as a useful platform to combat stigma.

Unfortunately, not many people who have recovered from mental illness and are leading productive lives are prepared to write in to the media and have their letters published for fear of being identified and labelled.

There is also the uncomfortable nature of mental health illness and the sensitivity of issues raised, especially if they involve negative experiences with public institutions.

I hope IMH and other mental health advocates can look into initiatives to share the stories of individuals struggling with mental illness, and not just stories of patients who have successfully recovered.

Unbalanced sharing of stories can sometimes perpetuate stigma and discrimination associated with the onset of mental illness as it gives the wrong idea that only individuals who have recovered are "worthy" of acceptance in society.

The sharing of stories by individuals still suffering from mental illness helps to facilitate the recovery process.

Many of them, especially in the 20-29 age group, experience a profound sense of helplessness as they feel that their life stories do not matter, and their voices will never be heard.

The destigmatisation of mental illness starts with the recognition that it is an issue that permeates different levels of society, regardless of education, income or social status.

It is therefore not an illness by choice and cannot be seen as a marker of personal weakness and poor resilience.

Resilience is not simply about enduring discrimination and unfair treatment. It is about using these negative experiences and transforming them into a power for change.

While we look for mental health advocates to champion the causes of the mentally vulnerable, perhaps we have neglected the fact that the biggest champions are the mentally ill.

It takes only a simple act of kindness to give them a voice, but we would have taken a big step towards reducing the stigma of mental illness in Singapore.

Victor Ho (Dr)

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