Mental health awareness has taken great progressive leaps in just over the last five years alone, according to clinical psychologist Janet Chang from Still Waters Psychology, Singapore. A topic that’s previously surrounded by stigma and treated almost like a taboo is now openly recognised as something that should be normalised and paid attention to. While we are far off from being a completely receptive society, we’ve finally taken off from the starting line. Still, openness comes with an equal amount of concern. Mental health terms, while openly talked about, are now also thrown around casually.
A growing discourse
“A lot has been done to raise awareness about mental health issues in the past five years, with the increased accessibility to information and dissemination of information via social media platforms,” said Ms. Chang.
She also attributed this growth to the number of celebrities from both K-pop and Hollywood who have opened up publicly about the topic, which “greatly facilitated the de-stigmatisation of mental illnesses.”
From her practice, she also noticed an increased number of people from different age ranges who are now more comfortable in seeking professional help.
“This is great, given that early and timely intervention plays a crucial role in recovery and return to function,” she expressed.
However, she noted that with the “growing awareness and wealth of information” also comes the downside of people misdiagnosing or over-diagnosing themselves.
Mental health terms that are often thrown around casually (even if they shouldn’t be)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), bipolar, and psycho/schizo — these are the most misused mental health terms today.
OCD, for one, is often used towards people who are unusually particular about cleanliness.
Ms. Chang explained, “Sometimes these people may not actually have OCD — in order to be diagnosed with OCD, their symptoms and behaviours need to meet a specific set of criteria, including causing distress or affecting one’s daily functioning (e.g. work, social relationships).”
Being bipolar, on the other hand, is also used incorrectly. Ms. Chang shared that some people may misdiagnose themselves with bipolar disorder when they experience mood swings or difficulty in “regulating negative emotions such as sadness, frustrations, and anger in stressful situations.”
Ms. Chang differentiated these instances from bipolar disorder as “having distinct episodes of depression (a period of persistent low mood affecting motivation) and mania (a period of euphoria accompanied by risky behaviours among other things).”
Lastly, when it comes to the term ‘psychosis’ or ‘schizophrenia’ (psycho/schizo), it’s often used loosely to label someone as ‘crazy,’ when in fact, these terms root from deeper mental health concerns that need professional intervention.
“Labels in themselves act as a form of negative judgment,” said Ms. Chang. “Instead of using these labels, it is better to advise such individuals to see someone who can assess them and confirm or disconfirm a diagnosis, as well as provide options for treatment. This can be very damaging for those living with and recovering from these conditions, and their families too.”
Normalising discourse on mental health
Given these discussions, do casually using these words help in normalising mental health issues or worsening the reception of them? Janet said it depends.
It can be said that saying and hearing these words on a daily basis and in casual settings help “take away the stigma and the taboo” surrounding these terminologies. However, if used lightly and wrongfully, especially using these terms to negatively label someone, it “can result in a worsening of the stigma, resulting in a reluctance and fear of seeking help.”
People who are also in the midst of recovering from their mental health issues might also regress in progress and “negatively impact their perception of themselves and their future” as well as “their acceptance of their condition and willingness to receive help”.
Ms. Chang remained positive. “I see a trend towards more discourse and greater attention to the mental health of teenagers and the youth in general — especially given how much pressure the youth of today’s society are growing up with. Also, another area would be mental health at the workplace — more and more, people are seeking help as a result of burnout from work — again given the pressures of today’s society financially, as well as the need for productivity and efficiency.
Hopefully the result of this discourse and awareness is the push for better work-life balance and self-care, and a move away from the focus on achievement.”
How to seek professional help
Terminologies and jargon are one thing. But nothing beats proper acknowledgement of mental health and its entailing concerns through action. If you, or someone you know and care about, are in need of mental health help — whether it be a ‘big’ or ‘small’ issue (we say this loosely because no concern is quantifiable) make sure proper measures are followed. Open up to a trusted person about what you’re feeling. Even more so, don’t let it get too late before you seek out professional intervention similar to Ms. Chang’s clinical psychology practice. Remember: a small step towards help is a big leap towards better mental health.
If you are or someone you know is in need of mental health assistance, please contact: 1800-221 4444 (Samaritans of Singapore in Singapore), +2 804-HOPE (4673) (Natasha Goulbourn Foundation in the Philippines) or 603-79571306 (Malaysian Association of Health Workers in Malaysia).