Fight mental health stigma with these facts
Do you know anyone with mental illness? According to statistics, one in seven people in Singapore suffer from some form of it, which means someone close to you may be affected.
Unfortunately, many patients are forced to keep their condition under wraps because of the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness. They may be reluctant to seek treatment, or not follow the prescribed course of medication for fear of being found out. The social isolation makes it harder for patients to get the help they need.
Like other patients, those with mental illness need the support and help from people around them to get better. You can start by learning the facts surrounding mental illness, and help to debunk some commonly held myths.
Related: Debunking Common Health Myths
Myth: Mental Illnesses Cannot be Cured
Facts: While recovery from mental illness can be a long journey, it is possible for patients to manage their condition and eventually put it behind them. Many mental health patients continue working and contributing to the community after they have recovered, and can even use their experience to support patients and families going through a similar journey.
One example is Ms Chan Lishan, who recovered from schizophrenia and works for the National Council of Social Service to enhance employment opportunities for persons with mental health issues. She has also written a book about her experience with mental illness called A Philosopher’s Madness.
Ms Chan says, “Any job can be meaningful when one is recovering from mental illness. In fact, getting a job may be the best way of recovering. Through reintegrating back into society, the individual not only finds new purpose but also contributes to society.”
Related: Managing Mental Illness
Myth: People with Mental Health Problems Have Weak Character or Personality Flaws
Facts: You wouldn’t blame someone for coming down with the flu. They can’t help falling sick, but with time and treatment they will probably get better.
In the same way, a mental health diagnosis is not something patients can control. They are not lazy or weak — in fact, some people are genetically predisposed to certain conditions. Unfortunate life circumstances such as physical illness or financial problems can also cause mental health conditions to manifest.
With the right treatment and support of family and friends, many patients will see an improvement in their condition over time.
Related: Mental Disorders vs. Teenage Angst
Myth: People with Mental Illness are Dangerous and Violent
Facts: Many media depictions have led to the impression that people with mental health problems are dangerous individuals. In reality, these portrayals are often sensationalised, and people with mental illness are no more likely to be dangerous or violent than anyone else.
Although some people with mental illness may act in ways that seem unexpected or strange, we should remember that the illness, not the person, is behind these behaviours.
While a small percentage of mental health patients may commit violent acts or crimes, findings that link their mental illness and violent behaviour are inconsistent. It is also important to note that people with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violence, discrimination and prejudice than to be violent themselves.
Related: Managing Agitation and Aggression in Dementia
Myth: People with Mental Illness Have a Choice and Can Just Snap Out of It if They Want To
Facts: Mental illness is exactly that — an illness that patients cannot help suffering from. Some illnesses, such as cancer or heart disease, cause physical symptoms we can see and respond to.
However, symptoms of mental illness manifest differently from physical conditions, and sometimes they are invisible to us. This does not mean they are not real, but that people living with mental illness need a different form of treatment instead.
Yes, medication helps. But what they really need to overcome their condition is the understanding and support of the people around them.