Health and wellness

Mental illness is not insanity: end the stigma before it causes more harm

  • Sadly, here in Asia, people often associate mental illness with “being insane”
  • We need to break down the taboo barrier. Only then will we truly be able to take “insanity” out of mental illness
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2018, 1:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2018, 1:35pm

I write in response to the recent article on how actor Todd Lawson LaTourrette, who is bipolar, confessed to cutting off his own arm with a power saw during a psychotic episode while he was “off his medications” (“US actor admits sawing off own arm, posing as war veteran to boost career”, November 3).

Sadly, here in Asia, people often associate mental illness with “being insane”: that is not the case.

People with mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, can live very normal and productive lives. Mental illnesses are not contagious, nor are they usually passed on within families. And, if a person with a mental illness takes and stays on medication, then 99 per cent of the general population – most people they come into contact with – would never know they even had an illness.

Sure, they will have their up days and down days, but doesn’t everyone?

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The stigma attached to mental illness is often what makes it such a taboo subject, even among family or friends, and what subsequently leads the person with bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness, to withdraw into themselves or start acting out. Both of these reactions can have seriously damaging, life-altering effects.

It was just a few months back that a famous Hong Kong singer-songwriter, who also suffered from bipolar disorder, died in a fall from her Happy Valley flat (“Stars and fans bid final farewell to late Canto-pop singer Ellen Joyce Loo”, August 14). She is believed to have committed suicide. While I am no celebrity, I, too, recently had a life-altering incident while I was off bipolar medication, to the point that I am now, months on, still suffering from the effects of irregular psychiatric consultation, and irregular or outdated pharmacological treatment.

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We need to be bold enough to break down the taboo barrier and openly talk about our thoughts, feelings and moods with friends, family and loved ones. Only then will we truly be able to take “insanity” out of mental illness, and see these patients as the same as those tackling any other medical condition: treatable and manageable. Not afflicted with something that needs to be hidden away.

Robert Lockyer, Lai Chi Kok