Real Story: Living with a mental health issue looks different for everyone
SINGAPORE – When it comes to mental health issues, many of us still feel embarrassed about admitting we have a problem. We may not want to admit to our friends and family, or especially our workplace, that we may be suffering from something more than a little depression or anxiety.
There has been a stigma attached to admitting to being less than 100 per cent well when it comes to mental health for a long time. We don’t want to appear weak, and we definitely do not want our boss or colleagues to know, right?
However, this is 2021; people are more aware now that a mental health concern is not the end of everything. These days, there are lots of ways to deal with mental health issues; there is a huge range of therapies, including medication, that can help. As a result, you can now manage your mental health and live a perfectly normal life.
'Never look at someone and ‘estimate’ their level of suffering'
Ms Ruth Komathi, 31, is now a Senior Case Worker at SAMH Oasis Day Centre, run by the Singapore Association for Mental Health, but she also lives with a mental health concern.
“I was not aware that I had a bipolar disorder. However, I did relate to various symptoms that I had read about in articles on mental health conditions,” explains Ms Komathi. “Although I was not able to function in my day to day life and I felt life was worthless, I repeated to myself that people were suffering more and that I should not magnify my pain. I constantly wanted to get out of the rut I felt I was stuck in but did not know how to do it.”
Luckily Ms Komathi’s GP noticed some ‘red flags’ when she was about 15 and referred her to the Institute of Mental Health, and after some drama, her mother accompanied her.
After going through rounds of medication and therapy, she received the official diagnosis at about 18 years old.
“The journey was a painful one. From me accepting my condition to my parents accepting that I had the condition, to managing medications, experiencing relapses and hospitalisations, and then ultimately re-learning about myself."
Ms Komathi says that dealing with her mental health issue on a daily basis continues; she sometimes feels extremely exhausted both mentally and physically and can have episodes that make her feel that life is not worth living. However, she says that she has learned to be kinder to herself and not dismiss her struggles; then, she takes time to reflect and reach out.
“At this juncture of my life, I am blessed to know the importance of my mental health. In my daily life, I ensure I am feeding my mental wellness by ensuring I have routines, good nutrition, and breaks from those routines. At work, I find opportunities to ask questions and share my concerns to ensure I am on track,” says Ms Komathi.
Ms Komathi says that being open about her mental health concerns has led to positive experiences when talking to others; she enjoys it when the people she communicates with “start to have a shifted perspective that a mental health condition does not mean that a person can no longer function.”
However, she also admits that many people continue to have negative attitudes towards people with mental health issues. “I have met people who do not trust me to do tasks because they know I have a condition and people who do not trust me to do tasks because they think that my diagnosis is fake/not valid; thus doubting me as a person. Either way, the result tends to limit my opportunities.”
To cope with this, Ms Komathi focuses on the things she can manage herself: “I share my experiences and remind myself that everyone needs time to get over their own biases. I talk to my support system to get different perspectives too.”
Ms Komathi wants people to know that living with a mental health issue looks different for everyone: “Never look at someone and ‘estimate’ their level of suffering. The diagnosis does not make us less able to contribute. We are all in this together.”
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The Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) is a non-profit and non-government social service organisation that provides a comprehensive range of mental health services, including rehabilitative, outreach and creative services, to the community in Singapore. For more information, go to www.samhealth.org.sg.