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The negative perception of people with mental health issues needs to stop now. They are not regressive, but only different. FREEPIK PIC

MISCONCEPTION. It is all about how average Malaysians perceive and react to people with mental illness.

On Oct 20, a young man by the name of Safwan Jebat posted this on Twitter: “My worst nightmare came true today. Some parents cancelled to hire me as tutor to their children because of my mental health condition. Weeks ago, I was rejected for a position as a teacher because I was publicly advocating for mental illness…”

He took the risk of opening up and disclosed his challenges when he spoke about his condition, apart from admitting he once had suicidal thoughts, on a TV3 talk show, Malaysia Hari Ini quite recently. “My life has changed 360 degrees since I appeared on TV3 for 12 minutes,” he said in a subsequent tweet.

Safwan Jebat lost most of his many friends (he said 98 per cent of them) as probably they were afraid he would lose his mind and become violent and aggressive. “They criticised me as if I am a criminal of sorts in their midst.”

This feeling of worthlessness and loneliness that this young man was facing have exarcerbated his condition.

We should all be ashamed that society does not give him a job because of his mental health. Many Malaysians associate mental illness with going looney or worse, becoming aggressive and violent. The negative perception of people with mental health issues needs to stop now.

Although there have been more mental health awareness initiatives in the media, including on the Internet, the stigma still exists and sometimes, the perception of people with mental illness turns from bad to worse.

Take the case of a depressed 16-year-old teenager who leapt to her death from a three-storey building in Kuching in May this year. She posted a “poll” on her Instagram account asking people to choose whether she should die or live. Sixty-eight per cent of them told her to “die”.

It was a classic sign of suicidal depression. I wonder if anyone who read the Instagram post would have been smart enough to talk to her so that she would not have done what she did. Or at least they could have traced her whereabouts and informed the authorities. I’m sure her close friends would have known.

There is a pressing need for society to be aware of youths with these kinds of challenges. On the Internet, depression is spoken about in volumes but many are not an authority on the subject. It is best that information be disseminated by an authority like the Health Ministry or the Malaysian Psychiatric Association. This is the reason we should always be sharing useful information from the right sources.

According to the 2017 National Health and Morbidity Survey, 29 per cent of Malaysians had depression and anxiety disorder compared with 12 per cent in 2011. I also read another survey stating that at least one out of 10 youths in the country (or 10 per cent out of 5.5 million youths) is suffering from suicidal depression.

I have been personally in touch with a few young people, some of whom are close to me, with mental illnesses and in my own small way, I helped them to manage depression. They were suffering either from bipolar depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or just general anxiety disorder, just to name a few.

Their conditions resulted in many symptoms that were noticeable by their parents and siblings. The symptoms were continuous feelings of sadness, worthlessness, emptiness and helplessness. They were either overeating or losing appetite, besides having difficulty focusing on what they were doing and having irritating mood swings.

These mental disorders, especially bipolar, also known as manic depression, occur because of a chemical imbalance in the brain. They will experience two extremes of moods, either extremely sad or overly excited from time to time. The feeling is like being on a roller-coaster.

Worse still, some become delusional and hallucinate. Delusion is when they hear voices while hallucination happens when they start seeing a ghostly apparition or something that is not seen by others.

The way I see it, people with mental illness must be managed with extreme care. Apart from getting them treated, family and friends’ support is important. One of the things I learnt is we need to be a pretty good listener as people with depression are self-opinionated and refuse to listen to advice even from their own parents. But they may listen to advice from a group of people with a similar illness. There they can relate to each other and understand well the roller-coaster feelings they share.

Many of these depressive people I met over the years are intelligent and creative in their respective fields and interests. I have read of famous people like writers, politicians, musicians and scientists who battled depression. They include Mark Twain, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Winston Churchill and Ludwig Von Beethoven. Even Chris Evans, the actor who plays Captain America, is said to be battling depression. I’m sure there are numerous geniuses in science, mathematics and arts in Malaysia who are suffering from mental illness. They don’t come out in the open for fear of stigmatisation.

Frankly, I think people with this condition have a beautiful mind. Their mind works progressively, though sometimes anti-clockwise. Not that they are regressive, but only different. They grow and mature as if they are on a different plane. Their opinions about life are not the same as others. In short, they are beautiful people with a beautiful mind. One advice, though; they need to embrace their condition of being “different”.

Cèst la vie.

The writer is a former NST journalist, now a film scriptwriter whose penchant is finding new food haunts in the country

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