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10 Millennials Share Their Thoughts On The Stigma Of Depression In Malaysia

Depression plays a prevalence in Malaysia at a percentage of 8-12 (out of 100%), according to a research released by the Medical Journal of Malaysia. And that’s depression alone, among other mental illnesses that are currently plaguing Malaysian citizens with an iron tight fist.

Topics surrounding depression in Malaysia have been increasing in numbers recently, as opposed to way back when depression was a taboo topic and something to be shameful of. Perhaps this is a chain reaction – Robbie Williams killed himself, Chester Bennington committed suicide, Carrie Fisher died as an icon of mental illness awareness, and then suddenly everyone is swarming onto the topic.

(Ironic how it takes celebrities to pass away for the public to start paying attention – as if us non-celebs are insignificant enough in our presence.)

Still, this is not to say that depression is getting as much attention as it should in Malaysia. A lot of people – mainly the older generations, or baby boomers – still carry the idea that depression is a sign of weakness and should not be talked about. Talks about depression still make people uncomfortable. There are still people who think that victims of depression are just trying to get attention and they should just do something that’ll make them happy.

Because that’s how easy it is to cure depression, right? Right?

We reached out to 10 millennials in Malaysia to give their thoughts on the stigma of depression.

1. Ven Xhin, 29

When you’re depressed, you tend to feel isolated, like no one understands what you’re going through, [so] there’s no point sharing. Also, not everyone wants to show themselves as so vulnerable and so broken, so that’s another reason.

And the stigma, which is that depression is weakness, that your character or personality wasn’t strong enough to withstand the hurdles of life. It still feels like a confession of shame to say “I’ve been depressed/I’m depressed.”

Even in this day and age, you’ll still be told to “get over it!” and just “think positive thoughts!”. Depression is a mental illness, which means there are brain anomalies or chemical/hormonal imbalances involved. No amount of “thinking positive” is going to help for cases like that.

Change can only come through exposure and education. Talking about it, discussing how to deal with it, and making it known that, “Hey, this happens” is the first step. That’s the only way to de-stigmatise an issue like this.

Honestly, I don’t think the rate of depression is higher nowadays. I think it was just misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed in the past, and also, more people are aware of it and are seeking diagnosis/treatment themselves. We still have a long way to go.

There are now actually good therapists in KL. I hate that in the past, you could just get a degree in psychology and set yourself up as a therapist/psychologist. That’s insane—you’re dealing with someone’s mental health here.

To anyone suffering from depression: Get help. Don’t go through it alone. There’re lots of options out there—there’s even an app where you can message local mental health professionals, and it’s cheaper than a face-to-face, which not everyone can afford.

2. Dale, 28

I think the reasons [victims of depression hide it] are split between not wanting the stigma associated with the depressed and also not wanting to be a burden to their loved ones.

There’s a misguided conception that people with depression are mentally ill. While I agree depression is a mental issue, I feel that most sufferers otherwise lead perfectly normal lives.

A stigma is called a stigma for a reason—a perception so deeply embedded in a culture that erasing it will take Herculean effort. I don’t think it’s something impossible to get rid of.

We just have to take the time and put in the energy. I think we have to constantly get the message out that suffering from depression is not something to be ashamed of, as anyone is susceptible. We also need to call out the ones who constantly antagonise and poke fun at the depressed, and point out their stupid behaviour.

Question is, will we be gutsy enough to take action when it counts?

The fact that the stigma on depression has become so effective is due to how easy it has become to compare ourselves with others. Social media is making it so easy to be exposed to negativity, and unrealistic standards don’t help either.

If I meet someone with depression, I know what I wouldn’t do—bluntly tell them to get help. I feel that doing this just makes them feel more vulnerable than they already are. From what I’ve seen on depression sufferers, I think the best thing to do is to be there for them and advise those close to them to do the same.

3. Ellia, 26

They hide it because there’s a massive stigma. Which is that if you have depression, you’re either “not religious enough” or “possessed by a supernatural being”. Or “faking it”, which is the worst.

A lot of millennials suffer from depression because you grow up being told that you have to go to college to get a job. So you go to college, you graduate, and you’re flipping burgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage. Either that, or you’re shoved into this increasingly competitive world that can tolerate less and less of your individuality.

It’s all about education, to be honest. If more high-profile figures, not just celebrities. Religious figures, politicians and etc. If they speak candidly about depression in a way that their constituents can understand, I think it will go a long way into helping Malaysians understand and effect change against this stigma.

I do know someone with depression. I think it’s important to not treat them as if they’re fragile. Let them know that you care and ask about their mental health, but don’t stop telling them about your life in case you “burden” them, and never stop inviting them to stuff. Just also be understanding if they aren’t up for things because they’re too depressed.

4. Wan Juin, 21

Victims of depression hide it because they either don’t know that it’s normal and fear that the society won’t accept this condition, or feel that it will bring about a lot of questions that stem from curiosity rather than concern.

There is a stigma on depression in Malaysia, because it is not perceived as something normal. Even if it is recognised as an illness, it will also be treated like other illnesses – a sort of handicap.

It’s true that people who are faking it do exist, which is why it is important to educate the public and allow them to learn the difference between the real ones and the ones who are really attention seeking.

Many millennials have been brought up in an environment in which their parents do not have enough time for their children, thereby allowing the media and others with alternative agendas to have more opportunities to prey on them.

Hence they might have many perceptions or opinions that they might not even understand yet, but it drives them to do unhealthy things as they continue to fumble with their own balance in life, potentially developing depression in the process.

If I meet someone who suffers from depression – or multiple people – I will provide different types of support based on their individual personalities.

5. Matthew, 25

I think those suffering from depression tend to hide it because of how people would react to it, like you’ve just got a small cut on your finger and it’s not a big deal. But the real feeling is as if you just got shot in the chest 20 times. And those bullet holes can’t be stitched up, eventually rotting inside.

I feel that in the past, baby boomers had way worse depression than the millennials do. Because the cause was visible for them, like war and economy meltdown. As for millennials, I think the causes are deeper but not visible to the eye. It’s why there’s a stigma on depression where the current victims of depression are perceived as weak since we have no apparent cause for depression.

Changing this stigma will take a long time. Using the “what if it happens to your dad? Your peers? Then how?” analogy wouldn’t work either. These people may have or may not have gotten through a small bout of depression themselves without knowing it, and that’s why they denied, calling it “a sad phase”.

I would like to just tell these people “If you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say it”. Because you can’t understand everyone and vice versa. Pay respect by being quiet.” 

As someone who survived depression, I will take the time to understand and listen to those who are facing it. Most of the time, I don’t react, because, sometimes, depression takes a load of time to process. So, I would just be there for them. Stay as long as I can beside them.

Even if I don’t know how to respond, I’m here for them.

6. Anna, 25

They hide their depression so that they don’t burden those around them with something that they feel is just a matter of the heart or something that would heal in time; like a cut or a bruise.

With depression being spoken about more after the demise of celebs like Chester Bennington and Jonghyun, I feel like more people are finding the courage to speak up about their depression. It’s not something to be ashamed about or hidden in the dark anymore.

Young people find it hard enough to just be their own person, they’re all still searching for themselves. I think the pains of growing up is a reason why they develop depression.

One way of changing the stigma is more representation in the media; e.g. more celebrities speaking out about their condition, and depression being portrayed accurately in movies and television shows. I think that would be a good start.

It’s healthy to discuss with someone who would listen. I’d say, be a good listener to a friend who’s suffering from depression.

7. Alvan, 20

I think victims tend to hide because of the stigma that exists, either due to their prior knowledge or experience about it. When they do talk about it to you, they tend to bring this up – “My friends don’t believe me/they think I’m just kidding!”

There is certainly a stigma about it. Although now with the increase of awareness pieces, people are starting to form a rough understanding about it. At least on the surface, they seem like they have some kind of awareness about depression.

I do understand why the stigma exists, especially when you’re trying hard to help a victim out and they keep reverting to their initial stage, and you get frustrated because it might seem nonsensical to you.

Obviously, articles that raise awareness play a part in helping people understand the fact that depression is not a joke, which may contribute to changing the stigma. And that sometimes, we can’t really understand what another is going through.

Theirs is a snowball of emotions and years of perhaps traumatic experience. Their definition of traumatic experience might be different than ours, and our pain threshold might be different than theirs. It will do for us to accept that sometimes we cannot fully understand another’s viewpoint/emotion unless we’re them, and deny the defensive thought that they’re just self-pitying.

A huge number of the youth suffer from depression and that’s partially because of the exposure to other people’s social life. With things like social media and self-promotion being so rampant, people with low self-esteem or people who had already succumbed will further fall into that pit.

I would try to talk to a victim of depression about it as gently as possible, but I also know that sometimes talking too much about it will hurt them too. It takes a lot of patience to kind of give them a third person view of what they’re experiencing slowly and subtly and hopefully help them out.

8. Su Mei, 28

Because it’s hard to explain and express something that people cannot see, so victims would rather hide it. It’s hard enough to express feelings for other people already, let alone tell them what’s on your mind. It is also difficult because these beautiful human beings wouldn’t want to burden other people. They could also hide it out of fear of being labelled as crazy, get brushed off, or get misunderstood.

“Think positive.”

“Look at the bright side of life.”

“Look at a glass half full.”

All these phrases are the common terminology in this stigma on depression. No one knows how to cope with someone who’s on the opposite side of the spectrum, as per social conditioning of what happiness and positivity are anyway.

When people don’t understand something, they fear it. Hence, the stigma.

Times are different. There are more people, competition is fiercer, expectations are heavier, the need to stand out is more apparent, things are more expensive, politics are seeping into everything, from police behaviour when someone is reporting about a rape incident to poverty.

How do you expect millennials to not be susceptible at these times?

And there is a way to change this kind of stigma. Despite it being said and done, we need to have more conversation. Don’t roll your eyes, but when more people come out and more people talk and see how it affects people from all walks of life no matter the class, skin colour or background, we’d realise that we have the power to change things.

Then it begins. It all starts from the top. Employers will be more aware of employees and their wellbeing. People will be more aware of each other. There’s so many people in the world that could have prevented unfortunate depression-led situations. If only they knew.

While I feel that you cannot control what people say, I hate it when people judge the journey of others. With a person who’s suffering from depression, I’d make sure to let them know that I’m there for them when they want to talk or just sit in silence with another person. Sometimes they’re just tired of talking, you know?

9. Nazrin, 23

People won’t even care anyway if they voice it out. They might not even believe and laugh away. That’s why those who are depressed choose to just hide it.

The stigma on depression exists because people that have never experienced it will never acknowledge or understand the other people who are suffering from it.

My personal opinion is that these sufferers are not weak, rather they’ve been strong for too long. Everybody has to be strong – life isn’t easy – but they also have the right to be weak and vulnerable at the right times. That’s what loved ones are for.

To just say that somebody should be strong all the time is purely wrong and rubbish. Everybody deserves sympathy, even the broken shards.

I think people should just talk to each other more. I believe if people are made aware of each others’ situations – don’t even need to get involved, just aware – then they will start being kinder to each other. More platforms where people are allowed to openly express and not be judged and criticised should be made in abundance. There should also be more collective social activities like sports, food gatherings, those stuff. Awareness equals change.

The culture of instant gratification is what I believe is causing this increase in the phenomenon of depression in Malaysia. Everybody wants everything instantly, even love.

I don’t really know what I’d do if I meet someone with depression, to be honest. I would probably ask them out for ice cream and talk about their life plans and see if I can help around with that.

10. Nabila, 23

For one, those who suffer from depression might think that nobody would understand the intensity of it, so to skip the talks about it, self-proclaiming that “maybe it’s just stress” or “it’ll pass, don’t dwell on it” or even “no big deal”, they might be able withdraw from even having to tell others about what they’re experiencing.

One other reason they hide it is because they themselves might not believe in their own condition, because doing so means you’ll have get yourself checked, why all the trouble?

I believe the stigma on depression in Malaysia is that the victims are just “putting a different name to stress”. Plus, people have more means to be cruel these days.

Nevertheless, this kind of stigma on depression has to stop. Just because you don’t have it doesn’t mean you should mock others who might have it. To change things, more talks should be initiated about it, and done so properly. More attention, more exposure, better understanding.

We’re living in an incredibly fast paced world. Each day, things get increasingly overwhelming and millennials are the ones who are truly taking the brunt of it all, being born as people growing up in both the sandcastle times and the iPad times; we’re experiencing a lot of speed as we go. Those who can’t keep up will then end up developing depression.

I’d listen to their woes if I do meet someone suffering from depression, and try to advise them to seek help from professionals – there is nothing shameful about it at all.

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