SINGAPORE: Mental health experts said cultural beliefs and stigma are two main reasons why Singaporeans with mental issues delay seeking help.
Experts hope a series of recently released short films will change society’s perceptions of people with mental disorders.
Former journalist turned freelance writer Yohanna Abdullah’s 14—year struggle with bipolar disorder has caused her to go through a divorce and loss of jobs.
That is why she hopes the series of four films by a local film director will help remove the stigma and myths associated with mental illnesses.
Ms Yohanna said: "The first time I was sick, my mother—in—law was with me and the first thing she did was to call a bomoh. It didn’t help of course. I was still the same.
"I was glad that my mother asked our family doctor what to do. Our family doctor recognised the symptoms and said that it was a mental issue, and to quickly seek help from the hospital.
"I think a lot of people tend to postpone the trip to the hospital or to the doctor because they believe it is spirit possession."
The four short films are the works of acclaimed local director, Sanif Olek, in collaboration with Club Heal, a non—profit organisation that assists persons with mental health issues.
The films feature real—life inspired stories, and highlight issues such as discrimination by employers, and the myths associated with mental disorders.
Mr Sanif said: "In all these stories, one thing in common is that they’re all bound by the stigma that society looks upon them. And I was telling myself this is a good chance for me to just do something, to do my part, to help to alleviate this stigma."
For health practitioners, the films could not have come at a better time.
Dr Joseph Leong, a consultant at the Institute of Mental Health, said: "What is the most terrifying thing is not the mental health diagnosis, but it’s actually the stigma that is associated with being diagnosed with a mental health diagnosis.
"Forty years ago, it was about cancer and a lot of people did not want to come to hospitals because cancer was a death sentence. And then 20 years ago, it was HIV/Aids, but then there is successful treatment."
"Currently, we are at the frontier where we have successful and useful treatment that can help people live a meaningful and successful life," he added.
The short films can be found on Club Heal’s website, and will be screened for the public in the near future.
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