The Stigma of Mental Health in Singapore and Why It Is a Problem

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Breaking the Stigma: The Importance of Addressing Mental Health in Singapore and Asia. Learn how we can promote mental wellness.

Stigma of Mental Health in Singapore Huhu Image
Breaking the silence: Overcoming the stigma of mental health in Singapore

Mental health is a topic that has gained greater attention and recognition in recent years, but it remains a sensitive and stigmatized issue in many parts of the world, including Singapore. Despite efforts to raise awareness and increase support for those struggling with mental health conditions, there is still a pervasive culture of silence and shame surrounding the topic. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the need for greater mental health support, with more people reaching out for help.

However, there are still many mental health conditions that are difficult to discuss, such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and schizophrenia. These conditions are often misunderstood and can result in discrimination, ostracism, and self-stigmatization.

In this article, we explore the stigma of mental health in Singapore, why it is a problem, and what can be done to address it.

Mental Health as a Taboo Topic

Mental health has always been a sensitive and taboo topic in many parts of Asia, including Singapore. The reluctance of parents to discuss mental health with their children and society’s general unwillingness to acknowledge mental disorders are evident of this deep-seated stigma.

Despite recent efforts to increase awareness and encourage open conversations about mental health, the negative attitudes and misunderstandings surrounding mental illness still persist in the region.

Such stigmatization often leads to misconceptions and a lack of empathy towards individuals with mental health issues. Many still consider such conditions to be a personal weakness or a lack of willpower, causing them to be seen as a source of shame and embarrassment that should be hidden away.

This kind of backward thinking can have serious consequences, as individuals are discouraged from seeking help and end up suffering in silence. It has also lead to discrimination and social exclusion for those who do come forward about their struggles with mental illness.

How Did This Stigma Originate?

The roots of this stigma surrounding mental health in Singapore can be traced back to traditional cultural beliefs and values that place a heavy emphasis on self-reliance, stoicism, and the avoidance of shame. These deeply ingrained attitudes have led to a general reluctance among Singaporeans to seek help for mental health issues, as doing so is often seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of moral fortitude.

Mental health disorders are often viewed as a personal failing, rather than a medical condition that requires treatment. This mindset perpetuates the notion that individuals who suffer from such conditions are somehow to blame for their predicament, leading to feelings of shame and isolation.

Consequence of the Stigmatization of Mental Health

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 60% of the world’s suicides take place in Asia. Especially in China, where suicide is the fifth leading cause of death and accounts for over one-quarter of suicides worldwide.

The reasons for this high suicide rate are complex, but they are undoubtedly linked to the region’s attitudes towards mental health. In many Asian societies, mental illness is viewed as a weakness and a source of shame, and those who suffer from it may be ostracized and stigmatized. This stigma can make it difficult for individuals to seek the help they need, and can exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness.

Evidently, many Asian societies also place a great deal of pressure on individuals to succeed academically and professionally, which can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. This pressure can be especially intense in countries like Singapore, where the competition for academic and career opportunities is fierce. Youth suicide figures spiked recently, with the number of suicides amongst youths aged 10 to 29 hitting a record high 112 cases in 2021.

Mental Health in Singapore infographic
Mental Health in Singapore infographic.

Addressing the Stigma

Eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health is crucial not only for individuals but for society as a whole. This can lead to a more inclusive and accepting community, where people can openly discuss their mental health without fear of judgment or discrimination.

When mental health is destigmatized, it encourages individuals to seek help earlier, allowing them to receive the necessary support and potentially recover faster.

Government

To tackle the stigma of mental health in Singapore, our government must prioritize mental health and invest resources in building a robust mental health infrastructure. This can be achieved through various measures such as increasing funding for mental health research, treatment, and support services. Singapore has done a relatively decent job in this regard with its various initiatives, such as SAMH and SOS hotlines, but more needs to be done to curb the ever-rising problem.

Another huge initiative they can work on is changing the narrative surrounding mental health in Singapore by promoting positive representations of mental health in the media, and by engaging in open discussions about mental health in schools, workplaces, and other public spaces.

The promotion of mental health awareness campaigns can help in spreading accurate information and reducing misinformation about mental health conditions. We absolutely must work towards normalizing conversations about mental health. This would in turn allow individuals to seek help without fear of social judgment, and more people can receive the treatment they legitimately need.

Society

it’s important for society to play its part by fostering a culture of openness and acceptance. Society as a whole can help to address the stigma around mental health by engaging in open and honest discussions about mental illness, and by creating a more accepting and supportive environment for those who are struggling with mental health issues. This especially pertains to the older generations, who may be more entrenched in traditional beliefs about mental health.

This could involve promoting mental health literacy in schools and workplaces, as well as advocating for greater representation and visibility of mental health issues in popular media and culture. This can be achieved through the creation of TV shows, movies, and advertisements that depict mental health in a realistic and empathetic manner, rather than perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

Positive Mental Health Trends

The latest National Population Health Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Board revealed that Singaporeans have become more receptive towards seeking help for mental illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. This shows the there have been positive strides made in the push of mental health awareness and destigmatization.

In 2021, 58.3% of residents are willing to seek help from therapists, compared to 47.8% in 2019. However, the majority of residents still prefer informal networks over healthcare professionals, with 69.1% seeking help from sources like friends. The survey also found that women are slightly more likely to seek mental health help than men.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health, with a study by the Institute of Mental Health showing that around 13% of more than 1,000 participants reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic.

In response to these findings, MOH has committed to improving mental health support initiatives, including community mental health services and increasing awareness on mental health. Employers in the public and private sectors have also been placing greater importance on protecting the mental health of workers.

Final Thoughts

Addressing the stigma of mental health in Singapore and Asia as a whole requires a collective effort from the government, society, and individuals. We need to continue promoting mental health awareness and education, and encourage open and honest discussions about mental health issues, especially when it pertains to our friends and family.

We must all take action to destigmatize mental health, so that people who are struggling with mental health issues can seek help without fear of judgment or discrimination. Let’s work towards creating a more supportive and inclusive environment that provides the necessary resources and support for those in need.

As a society, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the issue of mental health any longer. It is time for us to break down the barriers that have prevented us from openly discussing and addressing mental health issues.

If you require tips on building good mental health, read our blog on 5 Tips for Maintaining Good Mental Health in Singapore

Help Resources

• National Care Hotline:

1800-202-6868 (8am – 8pm)

Mental well-being

• Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline:

6389-2222 (24 hours)

• Samaritans of Singapore:

1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)

• Singapore Association for Mental Health:

1800-283-7019

• Silver Ribbon Singapore:

6386-1928

• Tinkle Friend:

1800-274-4788 and www.tinklefriend.sg

• Community Health Assessment Team:

6493-6500/1 and www.chat.mentalhealth.sg

Counselling

• Touchline (Counselling):

1800-377-2252

• Touch Care Line (for seniors, caregivers):

6804-6555

• Care Corner Counselling Centre:

1800-353-5800

Online resources

• mindline.sg

• My Mental Health

• Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service

• Tinkle Friend

• Community Health Assessment Team

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