Health & Fitness

Mental Illness, Not Mental Weakness

Cancer survivors are often refer to as heroes. Why don’t mental health sufferers get the same recognition?

Nine out of ten people believe that those with mental illnesses can improve if they wish to. Five out of ten people say mental illness is a sign of weakness. Shafiqah, a mental-health advocate with borderline personality disorder and a mental health activist in Singapore, is baffle by the results of a 2015 Institute of Mental Health study.

She says, “I thought it was funny that people viewed those with mental illness as weak. They can overcome their illness by working hard. Cancer survivors are call survivors.” Even getting out of bed can be a struggle for people with mental issues. “Fighting to do these little things every day makes you heroic.”

Shafiqah claims she attemp suicide at age 11 after trying to conceal her feelings for two years about being neglect by her dad. She was bullied severely by her peers at the polytechnic. It led to several suicide attempts and two admissions into IMH. She dropped out of her second-year university and spent two months in a psychiatric hospital. “Suicidal thoughts still haunt me, but I know I am fighting not just for myself but also for my friends.”

Shafiqah is not only a patient with mental illness; she’s also a social entrepreneur tackling mental issues using technology. She and her team created Psychkick – a mobile application that aims at making cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT), the most commonly used therapy for treating mental disorders, more engaging for patients.

Old and boring

Patients in cognitive behavioral therapy must fill out paper forms between sessions. According to Shafiqah’s informal survey, about 60% of patients must complete their CBT assignments correctly instead of writing random things right before their next session. The app is design to improve therapy results by providing active monitoring between sessions and making assignments more appealing.

“Psychkick is a way for us to support individuals with mental health problems.” We call them Heroes and act as their sidekicks to assist them with their recovery. Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise provided funding for Psychkick’s beta testing phase.

Shafiqah works with Psychkick to build relationships with those with mental health issues and see them regularly to learn what they think of their treatment.

She also met with IT professionals, mental health professionals, and officials from the health ministry in her quest to implement Psychkick into the public health system. Her efforts to assist her peers continue beyond the app. She has spoken to ministers to get people with mental illnesses the same support as those with physical disabilities also shared her story to help people better understand mental health. She spoke to university psychology students and other start-up entrepreneurs at places such as the Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs Programme, the LeapForGood Initiative, and a *SCAPE youth project entitled In My Shoes.

Many Singaporeans believe that people with mental illness are weak and that they can overcome their problems with effort. However, this is not the case for those who have physical disabilities. Exposing people to stories of real-life journeys and struggles can increase empathy for those with mental health problems. Shafiqah says, “I share my struggles and misconceptions, even from my family members, about the current state of mental health care and the gaps in the system that have left unfilled.

Does the 23-year-old see herself as a superhero?

“I consider myself a sidekick because I want my friends to empowered and to accept what they are going through and also want them to say, ‘You’re strong.’ I am a hero for fighting my mental health issues. I want to support my friends and future people that I meet and also want them to know they are just as heroic as cancer survivors.”

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