2020 has, no doubt, been a perplexing and even stressful year for us all. From the mandatory social distancing to the painful retrenchment that many had faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is safe to say that the pandemic has left most desperately scrambling to readjust everyone’s lives to such sudden change. What makes things worse is that many of us, whether they are teachers, friends, or family, are distant from those we confide in and seek comfort from. Sadly, this can be detrimental, especially for those who require a listening ear, and advice for their predicaments. Ironically, however, most Singaporeans today, are still hesitant when it comes to seeking help, be it therapy or counselling because of the negative stigma still attached to it, even in 2021, which brings me to the importance of destigmatising such necessary treatments that this passage will address.
It is no secret that the conservative nature that many of us Singaporeans were raised in has brought about certain preconceived notions about people who seek mental health help. Often, people receiving therapy/counselling are assumed to be mentally ill (which may not always be the case!) and too, are discriminated against due to the unjust stereotypes ingrained in many regarding the mentally disabled. This is further proven by a poll conducted by the Straits Times in 2018 that showcases the unwarranted fear that many Singaporeans still hold against the mentally ill.
More than five out of 10 are unwilling to associate with someone with an invisible illness, which then exasperates the negative stigma currently attached to therapy and counselling. Due to these prejudices, some individuals may even end up losing their job opportunities and social life. Despite this, there is a growing prevalence of some mental diseases in recent years, such as depression and general anxiety in Singapore, according to the Institute of Mental Health, which highlights the necessity of therapy and counselling in Singapore.
However, it is imperative to note that therapy and counselling are beneficial not only for those suffering from mental disabilities but also for those who do not. The provision of a safe space for anyone to express their moods, thoughts and feelings, can aid in the greater understanding of one’s emotions and turn themselves. The therapist/counselor can also provide a new perspective on specific issues that they may be struggling with, giving them advice that they may not be able to get on their own. After all, not all fights need to be fought alone, and it is perfectly fine to reach out for help as you see fit.
Clearly, the lack of education and mental health literacy is common in Singapore, given that to many, it is still considered a taboo subject. As such, many facing mental stress, anxiety, etc., often feel the urge to repress their negative thoughts and reject professional help. This is especially true given that our pragmatic nature as Singaporeans can regularly cause us to have the “deal with it yourself” mentality. The taboo nature of the topic has also likely obscured the resources available out there to aid those who need it.
The destigmatising of therapy and counselling truly begins with yourself. It is of utmost importance that you explore the benefits that such services can provide and grant yourself a more in-depth perspective of its importance. Understand that self-care doesn’t just involve the physical body, but the mental space as well. Just as you would go for a daily jog to keep yourself fit, frequent therapy or counselling sessions could also be just as helpful in maintaining a healthy psyche. After all, the mind and body are intricately interlinked! Bringing awareness to its benefits to others also helps the cause! Like with any stereotype, the de-establishment of such ideas that have been ingrained in many for a long time is quite the process, but one worth fighting for, nonetheless.
In fact, you can channel your efforts to this cause right now! (after reading this article, of course!) You can begin by correcting misinformation as you see fit, for example, if a friend or family member expresses some misconceptions regarding therapy and counselling, you can take the initiative to start a conversation about it. But of course, remember that changing people’s perceptions on certain things require patience and compassion, so it is important to make it clear that you come from a place of good intentions.
With that being said, a common problem faced by many seeking treatment would be the financial burden that it can bear, along with the fear of how others may view them receiving help. Unfortunately, as we know it, in-person therapy and counselling can be very pricey, which has deterred many from seeking such services, especially in a time of financial uncertainty that many of us have found ourselves in. As such, a viable option would be online therapy or counselling. More often than not, virtual services like these are more affordable and give you the convenience of not having to leave the safety of your own home, which could incentivise more people who are otherwise unwilling to seek therapy/counselling to give it a try! Besides, online therapy or counselling also grants you greater accessibility to your therapist/counsellor, who would respond as soon as they can, saving you the wait and sitting on a pressing issue until the next appointment. No longer do you have to worry about setting aside a date and time out of your busy schedule, as the help you need is readily available on your fingertips!
In closing, the wonders of technology have granted us many ways of attaining therapy or counselling in a much more affordable, effective and accessible way, which makes the destigmatising of these treatments all the more essential! While this would undoubtedly take much time and effort on everyone’s part to educate and be open-minded to new information, we must remember that it is most definitely worth it in the long run as healthy minds are what is required to create a healthy society. And remember, you are always deserving of support and a listening ear.