Show love and compassion for the mentally ill

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MAY 21 — “Appa, look at that gila (crazy) man.”

It was followed by a giggle as the boy’s father replied: “Yes, he is gila man. Don’t look at him, after you also become gila,” before bursting into laughter.

Gila man happens to be this chap in his 30s who lived at Pekeliling flats while I was growing up there. We never really knew his real name but we all called him “aneh”.

He was mentally ill. But aneh was one cool dude. In an era where mobile phones were only for the super-rich while the Internet was non-existent, he was our walking Twitter and Facebook, as we obtained the latest “news” (mostly half-truths or made-up tales) and gossip in and around our neighbourhood.

My family and I were having dinner one day at a small eatery next to the Sentul police station when we overheard the conversation between the boy and his father.

My father immediately called aneh to our table. He recognised us as we exchanged pleasantries and bought him a drink. He was happy and left with a big smile while singing a Tamil song.

Just as we left our table, my dad said: “The man is already ill, we don’t need to mock him further.”

His words then jogged my memory after I came across two incidents over the weekend. The first was a woman praying at the side of a highway near Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka on Saturday. Apparently, she did so to repent for her past mistakes. Pictures of her praying at the side of the road went viral on social media. Many were judgmental over her actions and her past.

Barely a day later, images of a young woman running naked in Balik Pulau, Penang, made its rounds. Many found it hilarious to poke fun at an already sick person. Police confirmed the incident saying the woman was mentally unsound and was sent to the Jalan Perak Hospital for treatment.

I then realised — we are equally gila. Gila to make fun of two people who clearly have issues and sick enough to find it amusing.

The Mental Health Association says many often misunderstand mental illness.

“For centuries, it has been seen as possession by evil spirits, a moral weakness or punishment from a higher being. Those suffering from mental illness are commonly perceived to be restless, violent and unpredictable,” a statement from its website read.

“There are many forms of mental illness that differ in severity, duration and degree. It is a disturbance of the mind which can affect thinking, feeling and behaviour that may interfere with normal functioning, and thus make daily life difficult. Most mental illnesses can be treated so that a reasonable state of health can be enjoyed. Like physical illness, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. IT IS NOT ANYONE’S FAULT.”

It then describes the symptoms which include anxiety, depression, intense fear and paranoia, among others, and the causes.

Some 10 per cent of Malaysians are set to suffer from mental illness by 2020 as revealed by Health Deputy Director-General Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman after launching the Public Service Psychology Seminar in Kota Baru in October.

Dr Lokman Hakim said the World Health Organisation predicted that depression would take second spot affecting those aged 50 and above after heart disease.

“Generally, those aged 50 and above will experience emotional, personality and character change, and decline in mind function.

“These changes need to be given appropriate attention to help them maintain a good mental health level,” he was quoted as saying then.

Steps must be taken to address this. For starters, we need to educate the masses about mental health. We must also help those in need instead of mocking them. The rising cost of living, financial instability and peer pressure are among the factors that could lead more people to turning mentally unsound.

It is just six years to 2020 and judging by the current trend, the number of those who could suffer mental issues is likely to increase.

We could continue to ignore this fact and go about with our daily lives, making fun of another naked man or woman running down the street. Or we could change our mindset by acknowledging the fact that mental health is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Stop being crazy and sick.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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