Suicide, Mental Healthcare, and Stigma

I recently came across the news of a NSF who committed suicide during his service. A little late, I know, but I’m also slow on news uptakes. Ganesh Pillay Magindren suffered from Schizophrenia, which I admit is something I can’t fully understand, seeing as I have a completely different disorder. Nonetheless, a death is a death, and the case of one in the S.A.F brings about even more attention in our news lacking Singapore.

But I don’t want to cover what has already been covered by the standard and alternative media. The reason I talk about mental illness on my blog in the first place is to get people up-to-date and have a better understanding of the the life of people like us and how to live together.

Lots of points have been brought up about Ganesh’s death, from CPT Jessie Goh’s lack of understanding, mistreatment by camp mates, failure on S.A.F management to properly convey messages about his condition. In the end, it was the fault of none, and at the same time, all of these things.

I want to expand on my previous post. Two more points to know about how to treat people with mental illnesses, so that things like this would not happen again (but really, it would. I just want to be optimistic on this).

1. Stigma Still Exists

Yes, it is 2014. Out lives have certainly gotten less shitty and more tolerant of the odd lifestyle. From mental illnesses to LGBT, people are not as much of as an asshole as they used to be. But it does not mean that the stigma that comes with these labels are gone. The following is a screenshot of comments left in wake of the news of Ganesh’s death.

UntitledIn fact, they are more prevalent now than ever. In the past, when knowledge of the subject was scarce, a proper good sitting down and explanation would be able to quell the lack of information. Now, everybody thinks they know everything about the issue, making wrong assumptions and unjustifiable claims without experience or knowledge. Knowing and understanding are two different things.

In public, you will never know there is something wrong with me. Even if you’ve known me for years, I could hide my problems so well that you’d have better luck finding a hay in a needle-stack.

What I’m trying to say is, people with mental illness work very hard to make sure they will never show they have problems. So don’t expect it to be something you can visually see and assess easily. Also, it means that yes, we are “insane”, but if you can’t tell the difference between us and a normal person on a regular day, it means we can live normal lives, just like everyone else.

You cannot assume we act a certain way because of our illnesses, or that the cause of death was a certain thing based on your own experience. We are humans too. Different to all as well. I’ll reasons for doing things, even in death, will also be different. In Ganesh’s case, his officer in charge too ‘looking fine’ to being fine, at that as he looked like a normal person, he was healthy. That was not the case, and could have resulted in pushing him to his death.

2: Doing Good Things ≠ Being Good

Most of the time, people forget the simple idea that being nice to someone does not immediately mean you are doing good. Offering help to someone who is in a wheelchair initially seems like a good deed. But why exactly did you do it for? That’s the question. Is it true well meaning intentions? Or are you trying to make yourself feel good, thinking you’ve helped someone? Or are you like CPT Jessie Goh from Ganesh’s case, whos help includes ‘toughening”?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain. CPT Jessie Goh, in the case, saw the symptoms as problems adjusting to military. So she tried to toughen him up by increasing regimentation. Her intention, though it may mean well, is achieved by placing Ganesh under her standards. She can argue the case as it being a ‘normal’ standard, but truth is, when in that position, she is treating him on the standard of her ‘normal’.

Doing so is no different from looking down on a person. People find others weak when they are deemed insufficient in aptitude, but these justifications are measured on a personal level. By ‘toughening’ it is as good as saying that the person is not strong enough by your level.

Anyone who has had major depression can tell you that the key to surviving is your strength of will. The fact that Ganesh made it to his age alive just shows the strength he had to survive. But like many others, he had something that most people did not. An extra baggage. His mental disorder. The fact that he pulled off ‘normal’ like that means he is stronger than most people will ever be.

If you really want to help people like us, learn. Especially if you are in a position of leadership or power. Do not be like CPT Jessie Goh, who did not understand Ganesh’s condition and made no inclination to learn more. She though depression was just being ‘sad’, which I will say again, it is not. She thought Schizophrenia was Split Personality Disorder, which it is not. The lack of the compassion and curiosity to learn; and the thought of righteousness is more deadly than apathy.

3: It is not an Excuse

This is more of a personal point, and I’ll try to make it brief. Despite everything I said about mental illnesses, making sound as though the learning points is only for the ‘normal’ people, there’s a great deal of responsibility for those on our side as well. What I’m about to say will apply to both healthy and those with psychiatric illnesses.

If you are healthy, do not pretend to have mental illnesses. It is disrespecting to everyone who has to live with it, and dishonoring the lives of those who died from it. It is not an excuse to escape.

Similarly, for us with the illnesses, it is not an excuse for us to be bad people. Being bipolar like myself doesn’t give me the right to be a antagonistic prick. Being schizoid doesn’t mean you can use it as a reason to do harm. If anything, we have to be better. Especially for people who managed to reach the point in life that living with mental illnesses becomes the norm. We have to be the best that humanity without the disordered lenses can never be. Be emphatic. Be good. Be human.

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