Transitioning (T): Hi William, thanks for responding to our questionaire on mental illnesses. Can you state your personal particulars e.g. age, marital status, educational qualifications and work experience?
William (W): I am 30+, single, and an NUS Honours graduate. The longest I have worked was one year plus at a care centre teaching and doing clerical work as an intern drawing $300 a month.
T: How long have you suffered from mental illness and are you on any medication? Any hospitalisation so far or relapse?
W: I first saw a psychiatrist in 1995-96. I have tried many different medications since then, both antidepressants and antipsychotics, before I tried something that works for me, a process that went on for years. I was hospitalised twice in IMH in 2005 while still on meds and once at TTSH in 2011. The hospitalisations in 2005 were against my will as I was agitated and caused a family scene. I was on the wrong medication and that exacerbated my symptoms.
In 2011, I experienced interpersonal stress and attempted suicide and passed out.
T: Are you currently employed? If no, why not?
W: No. I lack confidence in handling a full-time job. Besides, the intern position at the care centre, I’ve only been in two part-time entry-level positions in family-run companies requiring only high school education, and usually from referrals from family and friends.
T: Do you think that our society still perceives mental health as a taboo subject to discuss in public?
W: Yes, there are definitely still stigmatising attitudes in society at far. We are regarded as “siow” if we reveal that we are suffering from mental illness and shunned, ostracised and shamed regardless of whether we are a threat to society.
T: How do you feel about employers’ perception of mental health sufferers? Do you have any personal experience to share?
W: I carefully chose 10 employers to send my resume to, most of them Buddhist VWOs and publishers. I was given two interviews at two Buddhist charities. I declared my mental illness at the interviews because I was asked to fill a form. After interviewing me, they said they would contact me if I was selected. However, they did not contact me and both of them even continued to advertise in the newspapers for the same position that I applied for many weeks afterwards.
T: Do you think that MOM should have a legislation protecting mental health sufferers working in our society?
W: We should have a right to fair treatment by employers and have legislation that protects us in the job search process and thereafter.
T: How do you think your employability can be enhanced given your mental state?
W: Train employers to handle the mentally ill. Let the mentally ill work in the VWOs in a conducive environment and have enough staff to offer support to people with specific needs. Set up a safe, supportive and warm environment. Don’t limit the jobs available to F&B, sales and cleaning jobs. We do have other marketable skills and passions. Some of us also work better alone independently. Our mental state is even more important than our employability and the workplace should be supportive.
T: How supportive have your family being so far since you suffer from mental illness?
W: They have been supportive financially and I sometimes feel guilty for being useless. They also constantly remind me to get a job.
T: Lastly, what do you think the government can do to provide better support to the mental health sufferers here?
W: Look to countries like New Zealand that has a successful public education programme aimed at reducing the stigma and discrimination faced by people with the experience of mental illness – Like Minds campaign: Know me before you judge me. See:-
Like Minds campaign: Know me before you judge me (Rachel)
Thanks and end of interview.
Editor’s Note: I have met up with the writer last week and he blogs on http://greysteppenwolf.blogspot.sg/