​The stigma of mental conditions prevents struggling individuals from seeking help, but experts say it is important to talk about it to avoid possibly dire consequences.


The widely publicised deaths of young Korean celebrities in the past two months have put the spotlight on suicide and mental health and the stigma surrounding these issues.

It is not just in South Korea, but also in Singapore and elsewhere that taboos about mental illness continue to prevent many people from seeking help.

"With a strong stigma attached to the topic of suicide and mental health in Singapore, individuals who are struggling to cope are less likely to speak about their struggles or seek help from loved ones and professionals for fear of being judged or associated with negative stereotypes," said a spokesman for Samaritans of Singapore (SOS).
But the shame and fear of seeking help can have devastating consequences as they possibly did for the two K-pop stars - Sulli, 25, and Goo Hara, 28 - who appeared to have enviable lives, but were actually suffering in silence.

Dr Guo Xiaoxuan, deputy head of the Mental Health Workgroup at SingHealth Polyclinics, said: "Such incidents may be preventable if the person with suicidal thoughts had confided in someone about it and reached out to avenues of help."

Not all people with suicidal thoughts have mental illness and not all with mental illness will have suicidal thoughts, but a person with mental illness is at a higher risk of having such thoughts.

Dr Guo said it was important for anyone struggling with mental illness or immense stress to take that first step to share it with someone he or she trusts or feels safe with.

"There is never a bad time to talk about it," she said. "If you are struggling with mental illness and/or harbour suicidal thoughts and find it difficult to open up to someone you know, you can always approach counsellors or social workers in the community."

Ms Leow Lilyn, a principal clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), said people have to recognise that their mental conditions are not their fault or it would be difficult to share their struggles with someone.

“It’s crucial to remember that there is a biological component to mental disorders and the illness is simply the body’s response to certain factors,” said Ms Leow.

“Just like a physical illness, you then need to take certain measures to manage your symptoms. That can include medication, lifestyle changes and therapy.”

The SOS spokesman agreed, saying: “We need to recognise that having mental health issues and suicidal ideation is not a form of weakness and the community should not hesitate to share its pain with a loved one or seek the help of a doctor or counsellor, just as it would not hesitate if it had a physical injury or illness.”

It is not just the responsibility of the person who has a mental-health issue to reach out to society. There also needs to be a social change as Sulli did reportedly make the bold move of revealing that she suffered from panic disorder and social phobia.

Late last year, Singapore launched its first nationwide campaign, Beyond The Label, to encourage the public to regard those with mental-health conditions for who they are.

One of the things the campaign did was to celebrate the resilience and contributions of those recovering from mental-health conditions.
But individuals who seek help may not get a breakthrough right away. The United States-based National Alliance on Mental Illness advises being clear with people about when you want their advice and when you just want them to listen.

“Also realise that people come with their own opinions, informed and otherwise, so be patient when explaining,” it said.

“If they try to discredit you, gently remind them that you are the one living with the illness and you know yourself best.”