“At school I have a friend who’s my age who got pregnant and has stopped school.”

“I’m 17 years old, and at form 5. I want to be a primary school teacher teaching Maths one day. At school I have a friend who’s my age who got pregnant and has stopped school. She’s too young to have an abortion. But then after that she divorced from her husband, because the baby was not his, it was someone else’s. That man later ran away, and the husband divorced from her. Now she’s trying to make a living as a single mom. I think she might have been desperate when she cheated. I hope to go to Kuala Lumpur one day,and go to one of the islands on the peninsular, once I have the money. I’m looking for a man who works, I don’t mind the age. And he has to be responsible.”

 

“Most people here marry at the age of 26 or 25 or 20 something.”

I am 13 years old. I am Ibanese, studying SMK Metamin. During my school holidays I would go out and play. I’d play volleyball. Apart from playing volleyball, we would go for a jog or play football with other kids. We rarely go to the stream and play. I think I would marry after I start working at the age of 20 something. 26 or so, after I finish my school. Most people here marry at the age of 26 or 25 or 20 something. 

“It’s easier to go to the city to get medical attention than here because the city is much easier.”

How often does the Klinik Kerajaan come and visit?

Every 3 months. I’d prefer if they come more often, that would be nice. Their visits are very helpful as we are able to get a full-body check-up; to see how high or low is our blood pressure, our sugar levels and such. Thankfully nothing bad has turned up for my health screening. If we have any problems before they can come and visit, we would go to the nearest clinic and have it checked in Limbang. A hospital in Limbang is about 40 mins from here. We have another Klinik Kesihatan around here. Maybe 2km from here? I’m not sure. But it’s a bit far if we are going by boat. They are open every day except for Sunday.

But we’d rather go to the clinics in the city than the Klinik Kesihatan nearby here – because there’s a market there. And the road to the Klinik Kesihatan is not that great. It’s easier to go to the city to get medical attention than here because the city is much easier. The quality is also better. The people from the Kampung would rather go to the city to seek medical attention whereas the fishermen or smaller villages further deep in the jungle would go to the Klinik Kesihatan.

“Our generation and our mother’s generation are very different.”

Saya sudah cerai. Tak sama haluan. (I’m divorced, our paths were not the same). I’m 27. Not many people from this kampung get divorced, it’s rare.  Our generation and our mother’s generation are very different. They had 5 kids. I don’t know how many kids I’ll have. They had more sehaluan, more. balance. Last time it wasn’t difficult for them to find their way through life, now its hard, because even the men are lazy, and it’s them who wants to stay at home. That’s the difference. Back then, it’s the husbands who wants to and go to work. Now, today, its the reverse, they don’t want to work and mereka suruh isteri kerja (they ask their wives to work), but they don’t go to work. That’s how it’s like around here. It’s weird. Like this grandmother here, her children work 0- but her husband stays at home. The grand takes care of the kids. Of course, she gets angry. 

There’s no arranged marriage, they still choose who they’d get married. They also wear their traditional outfits. Iban people marry at the longhouses, and sit on top of the ‘gong’. They call it the gong tawak. Then we make them wear ayam – as in they take the live chicken, and move it around. Its their adat. 

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.”