The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with people’s mental health. Research suggests that the pandemic has negatively impacted people’s wellbeing and elevated the rates of depression and anxiety. So many people have lost their family members, been laid off from jobs, undergone immense financial stress, and been forced to stay inside their homes for weeks and months on end. It’s not a surprise that mental health issues have risen dramatically. But what makes the situation worse is the stigma around mental health
People are afraid to ask for help or seek therapy because they fear that they will be judged, discriminated against, and ridiculed by society. So many of us who are affected by mental health issues deal with it in silence, all alone, due to the stigma surrounding mental health.
I have a friend who confided in me about her struggle with depression. She told me how she often found herself unable to get out of bed and was having suicidal thoughts. When I asked her why she wasn’t seeing a therapist, she told me about her parents’ negative reactions when she opened up about her depression with them. Her parents did not believe in therapy and scolded her for making excuses for her “laziness.” They told her that she could beat depression if she just studied hard and not let negative thoughts enter her mind. I was disappointed and sad, but not shocked
This is how many people view depression and other mental health illnesses. You may think that only older generations hold these outdated views, but research shows a different truth. A 2017 study on the Singaporean youth’s attitude toward mental illnesses showed that participants aged between 14 and 18 years old associated mental illnesses with negative words like ‘crazy’, ‘different’, and ‘weird.’ Almost half of the respondents said that they would be embarrassed if they were diagnosed with a mental health condition. About one-third of the youngsters also admitted that their friends would perceive them as weak if they had a mental health disorder.
These results are alarming. They suggest that mental health illnesses can cause shame in those affected and are highly stigmatized among the youths. This can stop many adolescents and young adults from seeking the help they need because of the lack of support from their families and peers.
It’s incredibly sad that people with mental illnesses do not receive the support and help that people with physical illnesses do. No one with brain cancer would ever be told “it’s all in your head” or “just think positively.” Why? Because people recognize that physical health diseases need treatment since they relate to the body and its organs. Mental illnesses, too, relate to our biology and just because we cannot see them on a scan doesn’t mean they don’t exist
While heavy stigma surrounds the topic of mental health, the good news is, people and the government are recognizing the problems that mental health stigma creates and they are taking measures to change it.
Singapore is leading in the efforts to destigmatize mental health issues. In 2019, it became the first Asian country to host the Together Against Stigma conference where many mental health practitioners, researchers, academics, and people interested in the topic come together to discuss initiatives related to mental health and the stigma around it
Following the onset of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health set up a COVID-19 Mental Wellness Task Force to address the mental health needs of the population. The task-force will now be expanded into an inter-agency platform in an effort to promote mental wellbeing and creating a national mental health strategy.
However, it is not only the government’s job to destigmatize mental health issues, the onus is on us too. We have to be more empathetic toward those who live with these mental health conditions and offer our support to them.
There is a lot we can do to reduce mental health stigma in our society. Start conversations about mental health — online and offline, educate yourself and others on mental health conditions, be compassionate toward those struggling, and if you see someone spreading the stigma, stop them. Remember, your voice matters. And you can use it to wage war against the mental health stigma.