In this modern society where perfection is the standard that we strive towards to, admitting your vulnerabilities is often seen as weak – a foolishness even.
But the truth is, we all have our fair share of stress. There are days where we can feel completely overwhelmed with life and the tidal wave of emotions that come along with it. Or days where we don’t feel too great about ourselves and we have to drag ourselves out of bed. Everyone has their own struggles and you should not feel ashamed of owning up to your problems.
There is significant stigma surrounding the topic of mental health. Stigma is defined as a complex social process of labelling, othering, devaluation and discrimination involving an interconnection of cognitive, emotional and behavioural components.  It has long been identified by researchers as a key barrier to treatment, impeding the improvement of mental well-being.
What is mental health really? According to the Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH), being mentally well simply means that your mind is in good order and is functioning in your best interests. In other words, being in good mental health allows you to make decisions and judgments that have a positive impact on your physical and social well-being as a whole. 
To be clear, being in poor mental health does not immediately equate to being mentally ill. IMH lists common mental illnesses as depression, alcohol abuse, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs), panic disorders, etc – and these arise often due to the inability to cope well with bereavement, change, stress etc. 
As the World Health Organisation puts it, mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders. It is an essential condition in order to cope with the normal stresses of life, to be productive and to contribute to the community at large. If you think about it, we put in a whole lot of effort to keep ourselves physically healthy. We eat healthy, work out even when we’re at home and we try our best to get enough sleep. Shouldn’t we put in some effort to safeguard our mental health as well?
May happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month and this year, it also happens to be the extended #CircuitBreaker month for us Singaporeans. Somehow, it’s making me want to raise this issue more and invite an open and honest discussion around this topic – even as we’re “stuck” at home. I just really want to say: there is absolutely no shame in reaching out for help.
Covid-19 – an exacerbator of mental health?
A recent article in The Straits Times says there has been a rise in the number of calls for help to mental health hotlines. The concern is that the circuit breaker period can result in psychological effects that come with social isolation, boredom, anxiety, distress and family tensions. And there’s the added restrictions by law that prohibits social gatherings of any size. Yes, the law is real: you can get charged for visiting other people’s homes during this period.
Singaporeans are pretty much go-getters. We’re always hustling, striving, achieving – we rarely take time to slow down. Maybe it’s because we can’t afford to stop. Maybe it’s because we’re all afraid of “losing out”. This downtime we have from Covid-19 can be Heaven on Earth for those who thrive in doing things “own time own target”, or a personal hell-hole, especially for those who stress easily, dislike changes to routine, or like me – can’t wait to just get out there and meet with friends and just, you know, be with people.
Indeed, there are days when I feel isolated from the outside world and disconnected from my social circle. All this potentially takes a toll on our mental health and energy.
#StayHomeforSingapore doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom, and filled with “I so lonely” or “I so miserable” laments. The truth is, we’re lucky to be alive. Sometimes I find that it’s a great frame of mind to focus on just that and really enjoy, celebrate and feel thankful for life. Here are 7 mental health tips to help us all cope with this.
1. Charge up your ‘social meter’ online.
While we are unable to hang out physically for now, there are always ways that you can get together with online means – be it through a Whatsapp video call, Google hangouts, or a Zoom video conference – by the way, did you know that you can even play games together on Zoom? It’s quite a fun affair and I highly recommend you try it, especially if you love playing games.
If you are feeling a little more adventurous, jio some of your friends over to your personal ‘Sentosa Cove’ or even have a birthday celebration on the Nintendo Switch game that has been selling like hotcakes lately – fellow gamers, you know what I’m talking about!! For the uninitiated, I’m talking about Animal Crossing – New Horizons. Obviously you can tell I’m a huge fan. Huge shout-out if you are an ACNH fanatic like me!!!
2. Find something that excites you and pick it up (or relive old hobbies).
With the #CircuitBreaker in place, we have been witnessing lots of future Masterchefs and bakers-to-be taking things up a notch. With that extra time on your hands, pick up some useful life skills now, like cooking and baking. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later. Bonus points if you end up attracting your future husband through his belly.
For me, I used to love crocheting and knitting; but due to the business that is life, it’s a hobby that has been long forgotten. It seems like now is the best time to revisit this ex-hobby of mine and I’m excited to delve back into the world of knitting again. It’s time to do what you love just for the sake of pure enjoyment, am I right? It’s a surefire way to divert your mind from any negativities and get it focused on the good in life.
3. Find time to reflect on your life.
Those of you who have mad working schedules and endless OTs with no room to even breathe – I’m talking to you!
Ask yourself why you are doing what you do and is it worth it. Is your health taking a toll because of it? Just take the time now to journal and self-reflect on your life so far. Reassess your goals, directions and priorities. If you find that your health has indeed taken a toll, it will be wise to weave health markers into your life when the circuit breaker period is over. For example, set non-negotiables for yourself like working out every Saturday. Or the latest you will OT until is 8pm.
It’s all about awareness and action, and you have to make time to self-reflect to get there. If you need help on cultivating good habits, I recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear.
4. Get movin’.
Yes, I mean that literally. You probably already know that exercising relieves stress and makes you feel good because of all the endorphins it releases. The best way to maintain your mental and physical health is to just get up, start moving and sweating it out.
While we may be spending most of our time staying at home, it’s not an excuse to stay sedentary. To get started, check out our compilation of best fitness videos to follow at home. I’d highly recommend taking up a workout challenge to keep you motivated on your fitness goals.
5. Practise and even indulge in self-care.
Self-care is something very personal: it does not look the same for any two people. It really boils down to the things you like doing and how they make you feel. Do you instantly feel relaxed and happy when you indulge in a divine-smelling body scrub in the shower? If yes, incorporate it as part of your self-care routine and you will be happier for it. If the answer is nah, not my thing, it’s okay too. You’ll find something in this list of self-care ideas you can start doing at home on your own right now.
If you’re the sort who would kill for a pampering massage, facial or manicure sesh as your form of self-care, we have just the treat for you coming up! We’ve compiled a list of exclusive subscriber-only discounts in our upcoming feature Your Ultimate Back to Beauty Checklist. If you’re not yet an After Clinic Hours insider, subscribe now and keep your eyes peeled at the end of May ladies. X
6. Do something kind for others – a friend, a neighbour, or even a stranger.
There’s a magical potion that can help boost your mood instantly and chase any feelings of negativity away – best of all, you already have it in you. Yep, you’ve guessed it: it’s a simple act of kindness.
Doing something good and kind for other people just makes us feel so good about ourselves. Cooking up a storm for dinner? Cook extra and bring it to a neighbour. Buy something and get it delivered to a dear friend’s home as a surprise. Or how about just writing an encouraging message to your Grab driver who delivered your meal? The possibilities are endless and the results are always win-win.
7. Think of three things you feel grateful for in your life, right now.
Sometimes, a change in perspective is just what we need. We need to step out of the moment – whether it is a moment of stress, anxiety, sadness, anger or frustration – and rise above ourselves to look at the bigger picture on the whole.
I find that practising gratitude really helps with that and makes me feel grounded to the things that are really important to me. If you find yourself giving in to your emotions, rein them in and think of three things that you feel grateful for. It could be someone important in your life, or even a simple thing like enjoying your morning coffee that day.
Lastly, there are various support channels in Singapore to help you.
If you’re having a tough time and feel like you’re on the verge of breaking down, know that you don’t have to go through it alone. Also, know that it is NOT a sign of weakness to feel like you can’t cope and it’s perfectly okay to ask for help.
In fact, sometimes being vulnerable and talking about your fears and problems can bring people closer together. Your friends would understand you better, love and accept you for who you are. It is 100% scary, but it’s completely worth it.
If you want full discretion, there are also support channels in Singapore which you can seek help from.
1. Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
SAMH’s purpose is to improve the lives of people with mental health issues: be it youths, students and adults. They also occasionally hold interesting events to raise mental health awareness, including art therapy and rock climbing sessions.
Get in touch: 1800 283 7019 (Toll-free hotline); or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. National Council of Social Service (NCSS)
NCSS aims to change the public’s perception towards people with mental health conditions by raising awareness and facilitate conversations regarding mental health. They even have a chatbot named Belle you can confide in under their Beyond the Label campaign which advocates for the inclusions of people with mental health conditions in society.
Get in touch: 1800 202 6868 (24/7 Covid-19 National Care Hotline); or email them at email@example.com.
3. Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
SOS provides a safe space and support for people who are in crisis or are having suicidal thoughts. You can choose to remain anonymous and just pour your heart out to them, at any time of need. Rest assured that everything is confidential and you don’t even have to identify who you are.
Get in touch: 1800 221 4444 (24-hour hotline for crisis and suicide intervention); or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Institute of Mental Health Singapore (IMH)
IMH assists people with mental illness, as well as their caregivers. Previously, they only offered hotline assistance for their patients. They have now opened their hotline up to the public for call-ins to find general information on how to detect and provide mental health assistance for those in need. 
Get in touch: 6389 2222 (24-hour hotline)
5. Silver Ribbon Singapore (SRS)
SRS provides basic counselling services which are fully confidential. Occasionally, they also hold seminars/ workshops to raise mental knowledge awareness in Singapore.
Get in touch: 6386 1928 (office hours); or email email@example.com
6. Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT)
Birthed as a national outreached and mental check programme under IMH, CHAT supports young people between the age of 16 to 30 years old with mental health concerns.
Get in touch: 64936500; or email firstname.lastname@example.org
7. The Tapestry Project
The Tapestry Project is a mental health publication which aims to raise awareness of mental health related issues and bring comfort to those struggling through sharing stories of hope. Read all the stories here.
Get in touch: email@example.com
Even though the conversation about mental health has become more open in recent years, stigma and prejudices still lurk behind this topic. Here are some of societal pre-conceived notions of mental health:
- If you are dealing with mental health issues, you are mentally weak
- If your life is well and good, you can’t suffer from mental health issues
- If you have a mental illness, it means you are violent and uncooperative
- If you seek help for mental health problems or see a therapist, there is something wrong with you and you should be ashamed that you can’t deal with your own problems
- Your mental health issues makes you a liability at work
These above-mentioned notions are NOT true and do not apply. If we all continue thinking this, it’s no wonder why nobody wants to talk about mental health problems, much less seek help for it.
In my opinion, I think that therapy is underrated. Sometimes, you just need to talk through things, with a loved one or even better – with a professional. If a friend or loved one comes to you with their problems, listen to them, support them and try not to pass judgement.
We all need to recognise that our quality of life is not just defined by our purchasing power, our socioeconomic standards, but very much our well-being. After all, there is no health without mental health. Together, we can #BreaktheStigma.
 Knaak, S., Mantler, E., & Szeto, A. (2017). Mental illness-related stigma in healthcare: Barriers to access and care and evidence-based solutions. Healthcare management forum, 30(2), 111–116. https://doi.org/10.1177/0840470416679413
 Ong, A. (2019). How to make mental health a national priority, from https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/how-make-mental-health-national-priority
 Lim, J. (2019). The Big Read: With youths more open about mental health, it’s time others learn to listen, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/mental-health-youths-suicide-depression-listen-11994612
 Cheong, K. (2014). Now, anyone can call the Institute of Mental Health helpline, 24/7, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/now-anyone-can-call-the-institute-of-mental-health-helpline-247