Raising mental health awareness can help people understand the symptoms of mental health disorders and break the stigma that keeps so many people suffering in silence. Students and staff of INTI International College Penang (IICP) were educated on the early signs of mental health problems during a Mental Health Awareness Carnival held recently. The annual event, themed Mind Matters, took place from 5 September to 7 October.
According to Siti Nazwa Abdul Haris, a student counsellor at IICP, Mind Matters is a new way of empowering people to protect their mental health and improve their well-being. Reducing the social stigmas attached to the mental health problems is also important as those suffering feel ashamed of something that is out of their control and prevents them from seeking the help they need.
INTI International College Penang student counsellor Siti Nazwa Abdul Haris said Mind Matters is a new way of helping people protect their mental health, improve their well-being, and can contribute to reducing stigma around mental illness.
“Maintaining good mental health can stabilize behaviours and emotions, promote constructive thoughts, enhance self-image and improve relationships,” she said, adding that stigma is still very strong in society, making people afraid of visiting the doctor for fear of being called crazy.
She mentioned that while we are aware of the symptoms and treatment options for common illnesses such as the flu, fever, back pain, and COVID-19, many are not sure about the symptoms of mental health illness.
“Being aware of symptoms is vital in order for us to seek professional assistance early and get the treatment needed,” said Siti Nazwa who believes that those suffering should learn to accept the condition, understand what is required for treatment, and seek support.
Nazlina Ismail, a senior executive at the University Placement Office, said the mental health awareness programme is a good platform for students and staff to gain knowledge and information on how to maintain mental well-being. During her 19 years at IICP, she has met many students who seem normal but actually suffer from depression and bipolar disorder. While they go for therapy, the public needs to stop stigmatizing these individuals.
The panellists for a forum at the Mental Health Awareness Carnival are (from left to right) Ulya Ahmad Zakuan, Psychology Officer of JMTI Penang, Saras Pillay, Befrienders Penang Outreach Director, and Dr. Bharaty, D’Home Mental Health Association Committee Member.
“Programmes like this allow us to learn more about mental health. I may not use this knowledge to counsel students about their mental health, but it is helpful when interacting with students who have these conditions and is also beneficial to me as well,” she said.
To manage our mental health, we must learn how to manage negative emotions, such as where to release stress and pressure. ‘My Buddies’ is one of the IICP counselling centre’s efforts to raise awareness through workshops and seminars. The initiative allows students to speak to professionals and gain guidance and useful techniques, tips and skills about how to manage life.
“I enjoyed being part of the My Buddies programme and the mental health carnival because it gave me new knowledge, tips, and skills taught by professionals,” said Cheng Jie, 21, an international student at IICP who actively participates in the programme as it also allowed him to make new friends and help other students too.
Some of the activities at the carnival include fun psychology test to determine a person’s level of emotional state.
Cheng Jie said he had a friend who suffered from a mental health issue and his involvement in My Buddies taught him that he should advise her to seek help from a counsellor.
“Here we have professional and supportive counsellors. My friend is very fortunate to have access to such facilities when she needed it,” he said.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Jeslyn said mental health is an important aspect of overall health which used to be a sensitive topic to discuss.
“We should let people know that having mental health problems is normal. Talking about mental health can help make more people accept mental health problems, learn coping skills, and feel safe when seeking help,” said Jeslyn who is a student majoring in Psychology.
Jeslyn believes that we should let people know that having mental health problems is normal and we must play our part by providing support to them if needed.
She added that people can play their role by encouraging others to seek help if they need to. Providing moral and emotional support is important as many fear about how others will perceive them.
“Accompanying a person to seek help and asking the person how you can help is helpful. Providing emotional support will help reduce fear among those suffering from mental health problems,” she elaborated.