A Push for Progress in Youth Education about Mental Health

In spite of significant strides in the awareness of mental health in Singapore, a recent study shows that Singapore’s youth still have strong misconceptions about mental illness. Many of them revealed embarrassment about the topic or attached negative word labels to people with mental health issues. As a result, the study’s authors are pushing for compulsory mental health education.

Negative Reactions and Labels from Study Participants

During the study, 940 teenagers answered a number of key questions about mental illness. They were asked to associate specific words with the concept; and unfortunately, nearly half of the respondents used pejorative words like “dangerous,” “weird,” “scary,” or “crazy.” Obviously, those types of labels are unhelpful to people suffering from mental illness in Singapore.

In addition, the kids were asked how they would react if they or someone close to them were diagnosed with a mental illness. Around 46 per cent of the youths claimed that they would be very embarrassed, and many said they would try to hide the condition from others.

The Far-Reaching Results of Negative Perception

The research team expressed concern that mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, OCD, addiction, or depression in Singapore are not only misunderstood, but are considered a “mark of shame.” Childhood and young adulthood are crucial, formative years; and researchers are concerned that the ongoing stigma surrounding mental illness is being formed during these years. This could explain why so many adults with mental illness suffer from fear of others, often postponing treatment and slowing their own recovery.

The Chinese Difference

The research team uncovered one unexpected difference between the study’s Chinese participants and those of other nationalities or ethnic groups. The Chinese respondents seem more reactive towards mental illness, perceiving it as a greater threat and associating it with deeper shame. They had a diminished “sense of responsibility” towards people with mental health struggles.

The researchers suggested that this difference might stem from the Chinese idea of “face,” or social and moral position. According to the study authors, “Having a mental illness may be a mark of ‘losing face’ which can greatly affect one’s access to social capital and bring shame to oneself and one’s family… Chinese Singaporeans place more emphasis on ‘saving face’ than the other ethnic groups.”

Signs of Compassion and Social Responsibility

There were bright spots in the study, however. Most of the young people who participated expressed a feeling of responsibility, a “social conscience,” towards the mentally ill. What if someone with a mental illness was being teased? The survey posed the scenario, and 87.5 per cent of the respondents said they would support the person and stand up for them. What if a classmate were hospitalised due to a mental health issue? 83.6 per cent of students claimed they would visit the person.

Possibilities for the Future

The research team is using their study’s results to put pressure on the government in Singapore, urging that mental health education become a regular, mandatory part of every student’s schooling. “There is room for improving mental health knowledge and reducing stigma among youths — possibly with the help of campaigns targeted towards youth that are age- and culture-appropriate,” explain the study authors.

The team has several ideas for incorporating mental health education into the school system.

  • Speeches or presentations by someone with a mental health condition could help students gain understanding of what it’s like to live with a mental illness. They can clearly see that a mentally ill person is just another person, struggling with a health issue, but able to contribute to society and show strength and determination. These sessions should be regular occurences, not one-time events.
  • The team suggests giving more attention and support to the Peer Support Specialists Programme, maintained by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). For this programme, peers within the school support each other and reach out to at-risk classmates. With additional awareness and attention for the programme, the Peer Support Specialists can take on a more integral role in schools, encouraging acceptance and understanding for the mentally ill.
  • Associated Professor Mythily Subramaniam, a study author, also suggests that Singapore’s government look beyond its borders for ideas. In England, the Time to Change movement is seeing results. This initiative includes “Time to Talk” days which encourage national discussion of mental health issues. In Australia, the beyondblue initiative has triggered some positive changes as well.

Campaigns, peer support specialists, and regular talks for students are all excellent ways to move forward. The study leaders also suggest scheduling activities for students and parents, providing assembly talk outlines, and making various printed materials available for parents and students.

Support and Treatment at a Singapore Mental Health Clinic

How do you react to the idea of mental illness? Perhaps you suspect that you suffer from such a condition yourself, or you know someone with mental health struggles. Maybe you suspect that your own son or daughter has depression, or struggles with some type of disorder.

At Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic – Psychiatrists and Psychologists for Mental Health in Singapore, we offer you access to an expert psychiatrist and in psychotherapists in Singapore. Our services span all ages and various kinds of mental health struggles; and we provide treatment and therapy to children and teens, working adults, service members in the military, students, offenders, and elderly patients.

Let us know if you are aware of someone who needs professional mental health care in Singapore, or if you’re looking for treatment yourself. Call our office and we’ll schedule an initial consultation for you at our comfortable, private offices at the Adelphi, 1 Coleman Street. With accurate diagnosis and thoughtful treatment, you can reclaim your mental health.

Article by Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic