“I’m a full-time caretaker for my loved one. I don’t remember when I took over the responsibility but it has been about 20, 30 years since.
When I was really young, I didn’t know how to communicate with him because I did not understand his case, schizophrenia. So, we didn’t communicate and he got frustrated, and I got frustrated. But after I grew up, I got to know more about the different types of mental illness. Then, I learned how to communicate with him the way he needs to be communicated. I also learned to understand what exactly is he trying to tell me.
Learning to communicate not only benefits him but also helps me to improve my communication skills and my understanding of the illness.
It helps me when dealing with people outside of our family, with the public. Many times, when we deal with people, misunderstanding happens due to miscommunication. After attending classes at MMHA (Malaysian Mental Health Association), I learned how to explain to people around me about what is happening in my family so that they can understand it better. So, communication is really very important – how we communicate to our loved ones, to the public, and with people around us.
Someone with mental illness has shared with me that ‘You can choose not to be a friend. You can choose not to understand what mental illness is all about. But you don’t discriminate me.’
What they really need is not sympathy; they need empathy. They hope you can ‘understand how I really feel’, just like a person who is in so much pain. Is there any way you can understand how painful they are in? If you have been in that experience, you will know. But if you have not, you wouldn’t know.
Empathy involves understanding their feelings. Sympathy is looking down on them, like ‘Aiyoh, you very ke lian (you’re so pitiful).’
Just like any other humans, they need empathy as well. They don’t want to be sympathized. They want you to be able to just understand them.
People don’t talk about mental illness because the stigmatization and stereotyping are so bad. They don’t want to see the doctor because they are afraid of being labelled as someone with a problem.
You know how sometimes we read newspaper and we go, ‘This person committed suicide. Jump from the building. He’s crazy’ or ‘He’s crazy. He’ll chop people up (kill people).’
This is not true. The public needs to really understand why it happens. It happens because people with mental illness are not being treated. They are in the dark. They don’t know what to do. They need help. If they have been treated, they can be very stable. They are actually very smart. In fact, they are even smarter than you and me. They have a lot of ideas. They think differently and can actually contribute more. I have personally seen this in a few people I know.
Hopefully, there are more employers who are willing to open up opportunities for them. They will be more than happy as long as opportunities are given, even if it is just a few-hour job. When they have a job and manage to achieve something, it actually helps to improve their mentality as well.”
Photostory by Siti
Edited by Siew Ling
Photo by Aiman