Someone with mental illness had once told me that, ‘You can choose to not be a friend, or not know what mental illness is all about. But you cannot discriminate me.’

“I grew up with a family member who is mentally ill, and have been taking the role of a caregiver for the last 20 to 30 years.

When I was really young, I didn’t know how to communicate with him because I did not understand his condition, which was schizophrenia. We seldom talked and often got frustrated with each other. But as I got older, I began to learn more about the different types of mental illness. I learned to speak to him the way he needs to be spoken to. That was when I finally understood exactly what he was trying to tell me.

Learning to communicate not only benefits him, but it also allows me to improve my communication skills with people of various backgrounds and my understanding of mental illness. Attending classes at the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) helps me deal with the people outside of our family better as I was able to explain to them on what is happening at home.

Mental illness is not something most of us talk about very often because it’s not something we are familiar with and we are afraid. Because of the stigma and stereotypes surrounding it. Those who have it refuse to see the doctor because of the fear of being labelled as problematic.

They’re actually very smart. In fact, they are even smarter than you and I. They have a lot of ideas. They think differently and can actually contribute more than we realise. I have personally seen this in a few people I know. I just hope there will be more employers who are willing to open doors for them. They will be more than happy to have the opportunities given to them, even if it’s just a few hours’ worth of work. Having a job and being able to achieve something actually helps to improve their mental conditions as well.

Someone with mental illness had once told me that, ‘You can choose to not be a friend, or not know what mental illness is all about. But you cannot discriminate me.’

What they really need is empathy, and not sympathy. They want you to understand how they really feel, just like how you would understand a person. Empathy involves understanding their feelings. Sympathy is looking down on them, thinking, “Aiyoh, you very ke lian (you’re so pitiful).”

When someone talks to you about having suicidal thoughts, you should really listen to them and not avoid the topic, no matter how much it scares you. It’s never easy for them to reveal themselves that way. When they tell you, they’re actually giving you a signal that they need help but they don’t know how to get one. They’re trying to get you to understand.

You know how sometimes we read the newspaper and go, “This person committed suicide by jumping off the building. He must have been crazy,” or, “He’s crazy. He’ll chop people up.” This is not true. The public needs to really understand why it happens. It happens because people with mental illness are not being treated right. They are left in the dark. They don’t know what to do. They need help. They can be in a much better position if we allow them to.”