You would not expect harsh judgements from society about taking care of your mental health. I did not tell my friends when I struggled with mental health issues. I was scared of being judged. To be seen as unstable or ‘not normal’ concerned me as a sixteen-year-old Eurasian girl.
Unfortunately, the stigma of having mental health issues, seeking therapy for these problems, or being perceived as weak by oneself or others, exists across the globe, especially in Singapore.A study was conducted within Singapore, which found that 44% of children and adolescents related mental health with negative language, including “stupid” and “weird” (Cigna Healthcare, 2020). This suggests that from a young age, individuals cultivate this belief, enhancing the stigma and its power over society (Wahl, 2002).
Trautmann et al. (2016) state, “More than 50% of the general population in middle- and high-income countries will suffer from at least one mental disorder at some point in their lives”. When a high proportion of our population suffers from mental health issues, is it appropriate to continue this negative stereotype around therapy, suppressing those struggling to seek help? Would it not be better to embrace the fact that we all have issues and work in harmony to provide a supportive environment for those who want help? To help understand this stigma, let us look at some of the many factors that contributed to causing it.
Within Singapore, cultural values such as face, honour and pride are prioritised. Therefore, if mental health issues are shown, this could suggest an individual or family shame. Another component may be gender norms. Stereotypically, men are expected to show strength at all times. Having a mental issue may expose vulnerability, which challenges masculinity. As a result, men may suppress their emotions, emphasising that revealing emotion is weak (Cigna Healthcare, 2020).
Why does it matter that there is a negative stigma?
Having a negative stigma on mental health prevents people from seeking help. As a result, 78% of individuals concerned with their mental state do not seek therapy or alternative methods to cope with their issues. This is particularly harmful since individuals may not learn how to manage their emotions. This could become detrimental to one’s health, as their condition could worsen without treatment.
Other harmful consequences may include the following (Cigna Healthcare, 2020 & American Psychiatric Association, 2020):
What can you do to reduce the stigma?
The most straightforward and fundamental strategy we can all engage in is to listen. Provide a supportive and accepting environment for those struggling with mental health issues.
Additional approaches include the following (National Council of Social Service, 2023 & American Psychiatric Association, 2020):
If you are one of many individuals suffering in silence, please make an appointment with us today. Our trusted counsellors provide a safe and non-judgement space to listen and help you develop strategies to cope with the challenges you are facing. Additionally, we offer online sessions if you want to begin therapy more discreetly.
American Psychiatric Association. (2020). Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination.
Cigna Healthcare. (2020, October). Understanding and addressing mental health stigma in Asia. https://www.cigna.com.sg/health-content-hub/thought-leadership/mental-health-stigma-in-Asia.
National Council of Social Service. (2023). What we can do to address stigma. https://www.ncss.gov.sg/our-initiatives/beyond-the-label/what-we-can-do-to-address-stigma.
Trautmann, S., Rehm, J., & Wittchen, H. U. (2016). The economic costs of mental disorders. EMBO Reports, 17(9), 1245–1249. https://doi.org/ 10.15252/embr.201642951.
Wahl, O. E. (2002). Children’s Views of Mental Illness: A Review of the Literature. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Skills, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.1080/10973430208408430.
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