Halimah: More needs to be done to end mental health stigma
President Halimah Yacob says negative attitudes towards mental illness are 'sad', reflect 'gross ignorance'
More than half the people are not willing to live with, live near, or work with a person who has mental health problems, said President Halimah Yacob.
She likened the stigma and fear of mental illness in contemporary society to the harsh treatment of leprosy patients in the past.
Speaking at the Together Against Stigma conference, Madam Halimah said such stigma and negative attitudes towards mental health conditions are "sad" and reflect a "gross ignorance about what this illness is all about".
The international conference on mental health and stigma, which is in its ninth year, is being held in South-east Asia for the first time. It started yesterday and runs till tomorrow at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
Organised by the Institute of Mental Health and the National Council of Social Service, it brings together more than 500 delegates from 24 countries.
As part of her opening address, Madam Halimah spoke about how common the stigma surrounding the illness is, both in Singapore and globally, adding that stigma is what makes it even harder for people who need help to seek support.
She said: "This affects their willingness to make their difficulties known, and in turn, their preparedness to seek help."
Madam Halimah also discussed some of the initiatives Singapore has taken to alleviate stigma, but stressed that more can and should be done, especially in schools and workplaces.
She added that public education, inclusive workplace hiring practices and increased competencies in the healthcare and social service sector are important.
FREE DIAGNOSTIC TOOL
Madam Halimah also announced the soft launch of a new online self-administered psychosocial health assessment tool - iWorkHealth 1.0. The free diagnostic tool can help organisations and employees identify workplace stressors and mental health needs, so that the proper interventions can be implemented.
Ms Lyn Lee, 52, one of the three-day conference's plenary speakers, stressed the crucial role workplaces play.
In 2009, she not only lost her father, but her marriage of 18 years ended in divorce, leaving her to care for her two young daughters while juggling a high-pressure job. She said: "It got to a point where I just could not get out of bed."
Ms Lee was later diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, a mental health condition characterised by episodes of extreme mood swings.
The Royal Dutch Shell chief diversity and inclusion officer said that with the right support, self-awareness and treatment, mental illness can be managed.
She said: "If I were in a different company where I felt like if I said something, I would lose my job, that would have been different...
"I probably would have continued to struggle."