Mental illness is more common amongst us than you think. As many as one in 7 people in Singapore have suffered from some forms of mental disorder. Many who sufferers have to deal with blame and discrimination spurred by misinformed public perception. It’s a common misconception to think that these conditions can be controlled if they “try hard enough” to manage them. This social stigma can add another burden to sufferers, causing them to feel ashamed and reluctant to seek the medical attention that they need.
This May, we support Mental Health Awareness Month. Talking about mental health can be tough, but we want to let you know that it’s completely okay to voice out your struggles. We hope this article serves as a good start as we continue to shed light on the common mental conditions that can affect any of us.
1. Depression (6.3% of population)
About 1 in 16 Singaporeans have suffered from depression, making this condition the most common mental disorder in Singapore. It can happen to anyone, especially those who are dealing with difficult situations like relationship issues, trauma, stress, debilitating illness, loss of a loved one, financial difficulties and so on. It’s not just as simple as experiencing sadness. Depression can severely disrupt your personality, interaction with people and daily activities.
The acronym “SAD CAGES” can help you detect whether you, your friends or loved ones suffer from depression. If you notice at least five of these symptoms consistently for a period of two weeks or more, it might be a good idea to start taking action.
S – Sleep disturbances
A – Appetite change
D – Depressed mood or feelings of sadness for a long period of time
C –Difficulty Concentrating
A – Anhedonia: having little interest in enjoyable activities
G – Guilt or shame
E – Low Energy and Enthusiasm
S – Suicidal thoughts
2. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (3.6% of population)
A person with this disorder with characterised by having uncontrollable recurrent, persistent ideas, images or impulses and are driven to carry them out repeatedly. This condition often begins as early as childhood, but the average age when symptoms start to appear is around 19 years old.
The condition is worsened when people with OCD try to distract from their obsessions by turning to alcohol or drugs to calm themselves down. There are also a portion of sufferers that are unaware about their condition and may not realise they their behaviour isn’t ordinary.
Some individuals living with OCD may also be suffering from depression, and if not treated appropriately, OCD can impact all aspects of a sufferer’s life. Here are some common symptoms of this disorder:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or contaminating others
- Fear of harming yourself or others
- Sexually explicit or violent thoughts
- Excessive focus on religious or moral concepts
- Excessive focus on order and symmetry
- Excessively checking and organising things
- Repeatedly checking if loved ones are safe
- Repeating words, counting, tapping or other meaningless actions
3. Alcohol Abuse (4.1% of population)
Alcohol abuse is different from alcohol addiction. With alcohol addiction, the individual has a psychological dependence on alcohol involving compulsive drinking that doesn’t stop.
Alcohol abusers, on the other hand, may not be addicted to alcohol; they are heavy drinkers that tend to continue drinking regardless of the consequences. They may not drink consistently and sometimes, even just once a week. However, when they do drink, they don’t think about what happens next and may put themselves in risky situations.
Symptoms vary for each sufferer, depending on their background and medical history. However, here are some common signs:
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Declining work/academic performance
- Conflicts with loved ones
- Unable to control alcohol drinking
- Failed attempts to stop drinking
- Needing large amounts of alcohol
- Getting drunk in reckless situations
- Having withdrawals when not drinking
4. Bipolar Disorder (1.6% of population)
Bipolar disorder includes two extreme mood types – depressed (low) and manic (high). However, the severity of these moods can vary, and sufferers can have different kinds of symptoms. Together with mood episodes, the individual may also experience drastic changes in energy, activity and even sleep.
When the condition is mild, it might not affect the sufferer’s lifestyle very much, however when severe, the individual may become psychotic.
Here are some signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder:
- Having lots of energy and increased activity levels
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Talking very fast about a myriad of things
- Getting agitated and irritable easily
- Having racing thoughts
- Ambitious about doing everything at once
- Putting themselves in risky situations
- Feel down, sad, hopeless or worried
- Having very little energy and decreased activity levels
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Not able to enjoy anything
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Changes in appetite
- Having suicidal thoughts
5. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (1.6% of population)
Both anxiety and fear are normal emotions that we commonly experience when we come across a stressor or threat. However, when experienced regularly, or if it’s excessive and persistent, it may become a medical condition.
When this happens, it can affect the sufferer’s lifestyle, and his ability to work and deal with relationships or life in general. The individual may also experience physical symptoms, such as nausea or a rise in blood pressure.
Anxiety disorders can include specific phobia (person or object), agoraphobia (places, events or situations), selective mutism, separation anxiety and social anxiety.
Here are some symptoms of anxiety disorder:
- Restlessness, feeling "on-edge"
- Uncontrollably worried
- Easily irritable
- Difficulty concentrating
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
It’s important to note that it may be normal to experience the above symptoms in your daily life. However, people suffering from generalised anxiety disorder will experience these symptoms persistently and at intense levels.
In this month of May, let’s take a moment to understand that mental illnesses are serious conditions that require medical attention. It’s important to recognize their signs and symptoms - if you see anyone that may be suffering from a mental disorder, give them a listening ear and let them know that it’s okay to talk about it and seek help!