Shine the light on mental health - Letters | The Star Online


Shine the light on mental health

RECENTLY, the music world was stunned by the untimely death of Chester Bennington, lead singer of the popular rock band Linkin Park. Amid the outpouring of shock and grief from fellow musicians and fans, many were unable to make sense of the tragic manner in which Bennington had taken his life.

Questions continue to linger, perhaps none of which would ever be answered in a conclusive and satisfactory manner. Why would someone (or indeed anyone) with a family, fame and secure finances resort to such a drastic way to end his personal emotional turmoil? Was life so bleak and meaningless for him that ending it was the only rational option left?

In all honesty, it is downright silly that someone famous or deemed to possess significant celebrity clout should have to die in an unfortunate manner before anyone would address the elephant in the room – mental health and suicide prevention.

Many are reluctant to bring these issues to the fore, deeming them as too sensitive to be discussed frankly and openly. However, in a society that is generally obsessed with popular culture, this incident would be one of those rare times a taboo subject like suicide would see the light of day. Indeed, whether one is a fan of the late musician or not, there are sobering lessons to be learned about mental health and suicide prevention.

It is ironic that even with significant advances in the science and medical field, many individuals still subscribe to the medieval concepts of mental health. There are those who steadfastly insist that conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are due to “malevolent supernatural forces” while others view these illnesses as nothing more than psychological mumbo-jumbo concocted by Western quack practitioners.

Studies have shown that these mental disorders could be attributed to the imbalance of certain hormones and chemical substances in the body, hence the various psychiatric medications required to help alleviate the associated symptoms.

Therefore, it does not stand to reason that snarky, judgmental views on mental health are allowed to prevail in our society in this day and age.

For example, we would not accuse someone diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension to deliberately use their medical condition to gain sympathy from others. Likewise, we would never rebuke an asthmatic patient for being “weak” or urge them to “toughen up and stop being asthmatic”.

Should we, to paraphrase an infamous line from George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, believe that “not all medical conditions are created equal”? Surely not! Although certain medical conditions warrant greater care and attention, we do not have the right to invalidate a disease and its impact on the affected individual based on petty personal bias.

Last year, I was at the emergency department of a hospital to help translate advice from one of the health staff to the family members of a youngster who had attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. I heard someone carelessly remarking about how troublesome such “attention-seeking” cases were.

Later on, another individual proffered his unsolicited and condescending opinion about how mental disorders such as depression were just a “rich man’s disease”, as though there had already been research providing irrefutable proof linking someone’s financial status to his or her ability to handle life’s hard knocks.

The entire situation could have been further compounded had it been investigated as a criminal offence, which would result in the survivor of the suicide attempt being jailed or fined as stipulated under Section 309 of the Penal Code.

Being diagnosed with a mental disorder should not be the end of the road for the individual involved, but the recovery and healing process would be a long and arduous journey requiring solid, unwavering support from the patient’s family members, friends, employers and colleagues.

However, as evident in the incident mentioned earlier, it is clear that we are still lacking the impetus, compassion and empathy required to address mental health issues.

Truly, the progress of a nation and its society as a whole is not marked by an increase in wealth and material comfort alone but also the continuous presence of strong moral convictions and spiritual values among its members to end discrimination and marginalisation of individuals suffering from mental health and emotional disorders.


Johor Baru

Letters , Mental Health