As someone who was ostracized and bullied for 10 years by the students at my all girls’ primary and secondary schools here in Singapore, I am a strong advocate in standing up for the abused and the stigmatized. Interestingly enough, I was picked on by the girls at those schools for being reserved and ultimately, different from all the other girls. I was not extroverted and not sociable – and apparently back then, people thought that that was a problem. Through my own life experiences thus far, I have come to discover that those who were bullied actually share a similar form of stigmatization (be it from their peers or society) as those who have been diagnosed with mental illness. Hence, I thought I might shed some light on this important topic and theme of being aware of what mental illness is, and how this stigmatization still persists in Singapore’s modern society.
Having lived (yes, lived, not visited as a tourist – that doesn’t count) in the United States for about seven to eight cumulative years, you experience the side of life – for better or worse – that no other experience being stuck in one country could give you. What fascinates me whilst I was living in the United States was that people were actually encouraged to seek out therapy and that society even openly discusses mental illness and counselling, as if it were your typical water-cooler conversation. Whilst I know that Singapore has made further progress along the lines of openly discussing and understanding mental illness and the mentally-ill (along with other potentially taboo topics), I personally know a few local acquaintances here who would feel ashamed or shun the idea of visiting a psychologist or psychiatrist – as if they were afraid that they would “lose face” if they were caught doing so.
Part of my line of work involves teaching thousands of students from all walks of life. On some occasions, I would have the privilege to train students with specific mental health conditions. What I discovered was that not only were these students much more creative, they were also capable of extreme concentration and dedication to their craft. In fact, just because someone has mental health issues does not make them any less human than you and I. On the contrary, all of us are unique and in some cases, these unique quirks may serve as an advantage in making creative or technological progress in society.
All in all, I strongly believe that the only ones who should feel any kind of shame pertaining to mental illness or the mentally-ill are those who judge, stereotype and discriminate against the people who are in those special groups. Perhaps we have the movies or local culture to blame for our default views on mental illness, but as someone who has had direct experiences and encounters with various types of the mentally-ill in various industries, I can attest to the fact that the majority of these individuals are high-functioning, productive members of society – some of whom who even proceed to do great things in the United States and the world.
Whilst I am participating in NBFA’s event for the sole purpose of fun, their theme of doing it as part of an advocacy campaign on mental illness really sealed the deal for me. I’d love nothing more than to be part of something as crucial as a movement on mental health literacy, to build more awareness and understanding of such issues into our cultural consciousness.