Study: S'poreans think mental illness is sign of personal weakness
IMH study shows that Singaporeans misunderstand mental illnesses, with almost half believing that mental illness is a sign of personal weakness
She struggled with schizophrenia in 2008.
Miss Chan Lishan, 32, was not aware of her mental disorder then - not even when she trespassed into the Orange Valley Nursing Home in Thomson and was arrested.
She went there believing that it was a convent and becoming a nun was the key to her survival.
The former philosophy research scholar at the National University of Singapore told The New Paper: "I believe that if my family, my friends and I had been more aware of schizophrenia, then I would have got early treatment.
"Unless you know of, lived with or worked with someone with mental illness, you wouldn't be able to feel empathy and understand that it is not a weakness but a medical issue."
After pleas from family and friends, she finally agreed to see a psychiatrist who convinced her she had a problem and needed medication.
Miss Chan's story is not unique.
The Institute of Mental Health's (IMH) recent literacy study found that it is a common perception here that those with mental illness can get better "if they want to".
Nine in 10 of the 3,000 people surveyed believed so, with half of them saying it is "a sign of personal weakness".
The researchers said that such stigmas may result in sufferers avoiding getting a diagnosis.
But problems such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and even alcohol abuse often have a biological basis and can be treated medically.
The year-long study, which involved residents aged between 18 and 65, was to find out how much Singaporeans knew about mental illness. Apart from how they viewed the mental disorders, participants were asked if they could identify the five common mental illnesses.
Recognition was the highest for dementia with six in 10 being able to tell the signs of the disease.
Recognition was poorest for schizophrenia - only 11.5 per cent of the participants could tell the signs and symptoms.
Adjunct Assistant Professor Mythily Subramaniam, deputy director of IMH's research division and co-investigator of the study, said the later people with mental illnesses start treatment, the longer they would take to respond to it.
When asked where someone with a mental illness should seek help and what kind of intervention would be most effective, "friends and family" was the most common response for alcohol abuse, depressionand schizophrenia.
Seeking help from a doctor or general practitioner was most common for dementia and OCD.
Professor Chong Siow Ann, vice-chairman on the medical board (research) at IMH, said the study provided a good baseline for looking at mental health in Singapore.
"It helps us to better understand why there is a treatment gap for mental illnesses and how to target campaigns to raise awareness on these issues," he added.
Many do not seek help
More than one in 10 in Singapore will be stricken by mental illness in their lifetime. Yet, a high number of sufferers do not seek help.
Many are likely to face depression, the commonest mental illness here,the Singapore Mental Health Study of 2010 found. Other top mental disorders are alcohol abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
And as the population ages, at least one in 10 of those aged 60 and above will have dementia, according to the Well-being Of The Singapore Elderly study of 2012.
About 28,000 people in Singapore aged 60 and older had dementia in 2012. This is expected to soar to 80,000 by 2030.
Yet not many seek help for their mental disorder. It was found that among all the people with a mental illness in their lifetime, only two in 10 had consulted a psychiatrist.