Reducing stigma over mental health conditions requires open dialogue, patience: Panellists

Young people are often afraid to speak up about mental health because of a fear of not fitting in. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - After Mr Gabriel Chan's daughter was discharged from hospital after an overdose on medication, she made a video about raising mental health awareness and and posted it on social media, but was ridiculed by her peers for it.

The 56-year-old head of a fintech firm said his 18-year-old daughter's peers also took to social media to post negative comments about her, including calling her attention-seeking.

This sent her into a very bad mental state.

He said: "This is something no parent is ever prepared for."

Mr Chan was talking about his experience as a carer for someone with a mental health condition at a panel discussion held over videoconference platform Zoom on Thursday morning (Sept 23).

The discussion, organised by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), was part of the launch of the fourth year of Beyond the Label, a public education movement on addressing social stigma around mental health conditions, targeted at youth and parents.

Beyond the Label is a five-year-long campaign funded by the Tote Board, which since 2019 has held a yearly event known as the BTL fest. This year's festival was launched by Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua.

It started on Sept 17 and will run till Oct 31, and will feature masterclasses, workshops and dialogue sessions aimed at helping parents support people with mental health conditions, and for young people to share their perspectives.

Mr Chua was also one of the panellists at Thursday's discussion, which also featured mental health advocate Tasneem Abdul Majeed and non-government organisation Chat's principal youth support worker and programme lead Lee Yi Ping.

It was moderated by Mr Van Teo, social inclusion team manager at NCSS.

Mr Chan said young people are often afraid to speak up about mental health because of a fear of not fitting in, and many parents are in denial about their children's problems.

He added that the workplace can also be a pain point. "I was once dissuaded from talking about caregiving to a journalist because a friend said it might expose my daughter to workplace discrimination against people with mental health conditions in the future."

The other panellists also shared accounts of their own struggles, and some ways they had learnt to cope with and share their problems.

Participants at the launch of Beyond the Label, a social movement aimed at destigmatising mental health conditions amongst youth. PHOTO: MSF

Ms Tasneem, 21, a student at the National University of Singapore, said it is important for young people to understand that there is also a steep learning curve for parents regarding their children's mental health.

She said: "Sometimes parents may react in a way that is inappropriate or unconstructive. But instead of firing back at them or getting frustrated, it could be more helpful to understand that it is also a whole new world for them."

She added that people should not wait until their condition deteriorates severely before seeking help.

Chat's Ms Lee noted that many young people are hesitant about asking for help for fear of being ridiculed. But she said that in her experience, most parents are very willing to lend support to their children.

Mr Chua, in his opening remarks for the BTL fest, also announced two new initiatives under the Beyond the Label banner - social media campaign #StopTheStigma and the BTL Plug & Play toolkit, an online resource containing facts and information about mental health and resources for students to start their own anti-stigma initiatives.

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