This article is a continuation from our previous one here where spoke to five Singapore women from various disciplines who have been vocal about the mental wellness to share more about what you need to know, erase and do next.
As director of the Singapore Mental Health Film Festival, Cheryl Tan hopes to use film to spotlight the topic as she says the medium can help people empathise more easily with those struggling with mental health conditions. The second edition takes place in October.
Singer Narelle Kheng has been speaking out on social media about her struggles with depression and dissociation. Out next month, her deeply confessional EP Part 3 has provided an outlet for her to confront things she’d normally have retreated from, she says.
The uber-stylish Nisa Ngaiman is a counsellor who works with youth regularly. She says it’s important to learn as much about one’s own mental health condition and to go to therapy if it’s recommended by a professional.
Comic artist Rachel Pang started her whimsical yet intelligent IG account @rachelpangcomics in response to the controversial appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court last year. She attributes its popularity to her candidness on sexual assault (she’s a survivor) and other “taboo” topics.
Former graphic designer
Sarah Naeem is the founder of
The Moon, a bookstore/cafe on Mosque Street that specialises in titles authored by women and persons of colour. It also holds events for marginalised communities.
On the mental health landscape in Singapore today
Nisa Ngaiman (NN): “We have more and more people speaking up and advocating for mental health, which recently has resulted in policy and legislation changes. For example, people with mental health conditions no longer need to declare their condition in job applications. There have also been amendments in the Penal Code so that attempted suicide is no longer a crime. The advent of social media had also led to great initiatives like the Instagram account @mysafesphere (started by Female beauty contributor Faz Gaffa) that helps to reduce the stigma of mental health issues. The fact that we have such amazing ground-up initiatives tells me that people are more empowered to make improvements to our mental health sphere.”
Sarah Naeem (SN): “There’s definitely growing conversation about the topic, but through my own experience, there remains a lack of true understanding and acceptance on the part of institutions… You might have an open and comfortable working environment, but mental health is such a sensitive and personal issue. It’s not enough to talk about things on a surface level. For example, you know how companies in recent years have been using rainbow decals and posting on Instagram about how they support the pride movement? It’s mostly just marketing. We need actual structural change. Are these companies really implementing sound policies that empower their employees beyond what is being said?”
Rachel Pang (RP): “It’s terrible. I think we have to say it as it is to be able to identify the issues and make things better… Some of the key issues include lack of awareness; stigma; questionable methods of dealing with mental health such as how being institutionalised could be more traumatising than helpful; limited resources and access to them – therapy is expensive and insurance doesn’t cover it.”
On the relationship between fashion and mental health
Cheryl Tan (CT): “Clothing, accessories and makeup are tools that allow us to express ourselves and our identity. As shallow as this might sound, we inevitably judge ourselves and others by appearances so fashion does influence and correlate to how we feel emotionally and mentally. When we see beautiful images in magazines or on social media, we seldom question the complexity of issues that the subject might be facing – and there’s almost no way of knowing. The fashion industry does pride itself on perfection and could lead readers to continuously strive towards an unrealistic goal that could be mentally and emotionally stressful. At the same time, publications, brands, influencers can potentially serve as great platforms. That Female is doing this story and asking these questions is a great testament of the value the title sees in raising awareness for mental health and humanising fashion.”
NN: “In recent years, the fashion industry has been increasingly using its platform to celebrate individuality, diversity and empowerment and I imagine that this would have a positive impact on mental health. I’ve seen how my clients use fashion – for example, big colourful earrings or a smart shirt – as an avenue to express themselves and reclaim their sense of self and improve their confidence.”
On the relationship between social media and mental health
Narelle Kheng (NK): “Social media is definitely a big topic for conversation here because social media is technically not conversation. A lot of it is people being narcissistic and while there’s so much noise, people aren’t really talking to one another. Social media also tends to represent only one aspect of reality. That’s why it was important for me to try to change that narrative such as by making it okay to post things that are not necessarily pretty. I battled a lot on my own because you realise that not everybody understands mental health. People would come up and ask things like, ‘Are you okay? Why are you so sad?’ when inside, I’ve been feeling inexplicably sad for a lot of my life. It’s just that I’m talking about it now. It doesn’t mean I’m sadder now. In fact I’m happier because I’m more open about it.”
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@godsavedthequeen x @fixated_f x me for “Blue” Zine • I would like to take a moment to spiral some words for these visuals. As always they might not mean anything to you but being able to see these tangibly does everything for the girl in me that had been fighting double depression and dissociation, that felt twisted, heavy and oh so confused.. it’s strange, but my fight to make things beautiful left me in this wild, surrealistic landscape that I wanted to immortalise. – In this world there’s an eerie silence. A layer of rockwool to muffle the noises around me. I can’t hear, there are things I’m missing in the voices that surround me. I have recurring dreams of my eyeballs being outta my control. I try and walk in a straight line but I’m completely off balance, it takes all my energy. People move around me, and I could touch them if I wanted but there’s so much weight in the space between us. When they stare at me I can’t tell if they see me or not. Either way it gives me anxiety. I feel like an animal. ———————————- I told Polina I wanted to cover myself in glitter. She asks me why. Not from a marketing business POV like I expected, but why do you feel the need? She tells me people will stare at you strange. You feel like a creature. It’s horribly uncomfortable, your skin can’t breathe and it’s hard to use the toilet. It’s a bitch to rub off and you’re going to finding glitter everywhere for weeks. I say it’s perfect. I want to do it, I want to feel like the creature I am in my head and when I’m done I want to scrub it off my body. I want to find little bits of glitter in my bed to remind myself it’s no longer on me. I want to be blue, but I want to sparkle. I want to walk thru these places of grandeur and remind myself of the sadness and loss. I want to make a small protest against that feeling of needing to trade happiness and wellbeing for money and big buildings. I want to do something for no reason at all, and I want my friends to do it with me. We run thru the rain like completely weirdos for a bit then everybody goes to work ✨ not a bad way to start a Friday Special thanks @nydiashiang @tim_amunasha
CT: “The festival has served as a great platform for us to share and collect stories and create a community that is willing to listen and offer words of kindness and encouragement. It has also allowed us to understand what audiences would like to know about mental health and help clarify any misunderstanding or doubts. Ironically when it comes to consuming social media, I feel that it has detrimental effects on a person’s self-esteem and ability to be present. For example, we turn towards our mobile devices multiple times a day in uncomfortable moments or while on commute… And since social media is largely unregulated, negativity from keyboard warriors might cause mental distress.”