Mental illness is not something most people talk about openly. If we’re honest with ourselves, the thought of being mentally ill frightens us. However, as our lives become more hectic and stressful, mental illness becomes a growing public concern. As much as we try to keep physically fit, it’s also important to maintain our mental wellness.
According to statistics from the Institute of Mental Health, one in 17 people in Singapore have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) at least once in their lives. Also known as clinical depression, MDD is a mental disorder that’s characterised by a persistent low mood, coupled with low self-worth and a loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities.
Depression affects at least 102,000 adult women in Singapore.
While professional help is readily on-hand, not many people reach out for assistance, and understandably so. Many are worried about the stigma attached to mental illness, and about the implications it might have on their job security or relationships. However, it’s heartening to note that more people are stepping out to lend a positive voice to those suffering from mental illness. One such cause is Silver Ribbon (Singapore), a group which organises talks, workshops and events to help raise awareness about mental wellbeing.
Individuals are also stepping out to share their story. In September 2013, Pangdemonium Productions staged a drama-musical, Next To Normal, which tells the story of a family grappling with the mother’s bipolar disorder and schizophrenic hallucinations. In the program bill, there were excerpts of interviews with Singaporeans living with mental illness. As I read the interviews, it moved me that they were so forthcoming with their experiences.
Recently, in December 2013, I ran into an old friend, Amy. I was surprised (and touched) when she opened up to me about her experience with bipolar disorder. While she’s chosen not to reveal her real name this time, Amy hopes her story will give fellow sufferers the courage to seek help, and shake off any stigma that people may have of mental illness sufferers.
What is bipolar disorder, and how were you diagnosed?
“People who have bipolar disorder would experience manic episodes (being unable to sleep, racing thoughts, slurred speech) followed by bouts of depression (very moody, suicidal thoughts, no desire to do anything).
In April 2011, my mother passed away suddenly, just before my final exams. I think the shock of it triggered my disorder. During the funeral, I was already behaving weirdly, telling my relatives that I have supernatural powers. A few days after the funeral, I was studying at the school library when the security guards informed me they had to close up for the day. I became hysterical, and caused a scene by shouting and running away from them, and rolling on the floor. The security guards called the ambulance, and I was brought to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) where I was warded for a week. But because there is no psychiatric ward in SGH, I had to be strapped to my bed and was on constant supervision. I had to use a bedpan, and wasn’t even allowed to wash my hands! Instead, the nurses would give me hand sanitiser. A week later, I was sent to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.”
Share with us what your experience with bipolar is like.
“Actually, there are signs before a relapse. I will be unable to sleep, even though everyone around me can tell I’m very tired. Somehow, my brain refuses to shut down. When this happens, the correct action to take is to admit myself into hospital as soon as possible, or get my medication adjusted. Back then, I didn’t know how to handle it well as I was worried about being admitted back to hospital, away from my friends and family.
I had my first relapse in December 2012. It got to a point where I felt I was losing the conscious part of my mind – there was once where I dashed across the road, without even realising that the traffic was still moving. It was only when the cars started honking that I snapped back to reality. One way to describe it – it’s like when you’re drunk and you know whatever you’re doing is wrong, but you can’t stop yourself. Now, I’ve come to accept that relapses are part and parcel of illness, and I just have to manage it before it becomes full-blown.”
Did your diagnosis affect your relationships with the people around you?
“Most of my friends and family members were very understanding, especially when I explained to them about my condition. However, it affected my relationship with my then-boss. At that time, I was going through the signs prior to a relapse, but I didn’t know it. I was frequently sending him all sorts of texts and emails late into the night, as I couldn’t sleep and was worried about a big project we were working on. After a while, he took me off the project and relegated me to a job with less responsibilities. Eventually, I quit.”
How do you keep yourself mentally fit these days?
“I try my best to stick to a fixed routine – sleeping a certain number of hours, and making sure I take my medication at a fixed time. I also try to exercise at least once a week, and spend time with my friends, who’ve been very supportive throughout. I’m now running my own company, but I try not to stress myself out too much about work. After all, there’s no such thing as a stress-free job; I just need to learn how to better manage my stress.
I hope that my experience helps people understand mental illness better. It’s not something to be afraid of, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional help. In fact, you should reach out for help. The earlier treatment starts, the better.”
The Institute of Mental Health has also come up with 10 tips to maintain your mental wellbeing. Print this out and paste it on your desk, mirror, or anywhere you can see it often.
If you know of anyone who might need help, call the Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline at 1800 283 7019, or visit their website here.
About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.
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