Get help to burst the 'bubble'

Burst the Silence is a social movement that highlights the danger of youths being silent about their problems. Stage actos will be doing silent skits in a "bubble" outside Shaw Centre.
They hope to draw people to the "Burst the Silence" event on 17 March 2012.

SINGAPORE - He was 19 years old when he believed he could communicate with people from an alternate universe.

Justin (not his real name) was developing psychotic symptoms and began to have delusions. For a year, he felt confused and lost.

His grades at school suffered. So did his social life.

He was sent to the Community Health Assessment Team (Chat) at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and a youth counsellor convinced him to seek treatment early and to share his symptoms with his family.

With treatment and family support, Justin is now completing his final-year at a tertiary institution.

IMH's latest campaign, Burst the Silence, hopes to encourage young people with mental issues not to suffer in silence and to seek help early.

It is IMH's first such campaign following a suicide awareness campaign, One Last Breath, organised from October to December last year.

Chat youth support worker Nur Khairunisa Ngaiman said young people who stay silent cannot access the many resources available to them, including friends, family, school counsellors and therapists.

She said: "They may feel a sense of helplessness if the stressor gets more and more overwhelming... He or she may then resort to self-destructive coping habits like self-harm and excessive drinking."

Chat, set up in 2009, has assessment services for those between 16 and 30 years old.

Between April 2009 and last December, it provided psychiatric assessment to 169 young people and about 30 per cent of them were referred for follow-up treatment in hospitals.

Youth problems the team sees include adjustment issues in school or a new environment and family matters that the young people can't cope with.

Others have mental health issues like depression, anxiety and some psychotic symptoms, said Associate Professor Swapna Verma, Chat's project director.

Prof Verma said: "Youth is the peak period for the onset of major mental health problems and such problems are often associated with high levels of disability."

The Singapore Mental Health Survey last year found that most people with mental illness had their first onset of the illness when they were in their 20s.

The survey found that in most mental illness cases, sufferers were not seeking professional help.

Those suffering from alcohol abuse started at an average age of 23 and took an average of 13 years before they sought help.

People with bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) waited nine years before seeking help. Their illnesses started at the average ages of 24 and 19 respectively.

Common disorders

According to the survey, major depressive disorder (MDD), alcohol abuse and OCD were the top three most common disorders in Singapore.

It found that 6.3 per cent of Singapore's adult population have suffered from MDD at some point in their lives..

To encourage sufferers to get help, IMH is organising an event at *Scape on March 17 from 6pm that will feature performances and graffiti artists.

Last weekend, a performance outside Shaw Centre involved a "bubble" with a young person "trapped" in it.

A passer-by, Mr Luther James Balat, 32, called the bubble an "attractive" metaphor.

"It gets people to ask, 'What's the meaning behind this structure?'

"Young people do need to talk to parents about their issues. Some might just tell their friends, but the latter might not give sound advice."

This article was first published in The New Paper.