Crunching numbers, staying on top of one’s game and ensuring that one is always contactable, these are situations that are just all too familiar to Weiren, an ex-shipbroking executive. Having faced the mental drain and experienced the impact of a high-paying, stressful career, Weiren decided that he had to make a change. He is now the co-founder of The Lion Mind, a non-profit organisation that aims to promote mental wellness and positive psychology through education and partnership with the community.
We sat down with Weiren to get a little insight on the level of awareness in a society where mental illness is often stigmatised. How can we as a society go about normalising conversations and creating open discussions?
“Many people have certain thoughts about mental health because they simply do not understand it. Start by educating yourself about mental health! Resolve certain misconceptions that you may have by clarifying them, through books, reliable websites or seminars. With more understanding, you can spread the knowledge and correct those myths about mental health illnesses to those you are comfortable with.”
Combating stigma requires everyone’s effort, and it will be easier when everyone starts with themselves. As much as being part of an organisation such as The Lion Mind is very meaningful, do you think that there is an expectation for you to be all smiles every day? Is there pressure to remain silent about your problems?
“Yes, that is true, everyone would expect you to be always sunny and happy. I think this is similar to people facing mental health issues. In order to not be judged or viewed negatively by others we tend to hide and mask our true thinking and emotions.
“At times I do feel pressured to remain silent about my issues. However, having a supportive and genuine team is helpful because they encourage and reassure me that it is a safe space for me to open up and share more.
“We’ve also made it an effort to check in with each other if we notice anything off. This then starts a conversation, which is really the first step towards reaching out for help. I am thankful to have a strong support system. We wish to continue fostering this culture of open communication with no judgement.”
Speaking of support systems, how can we as a society support those suffering from mental illness? What do people suffering from certain mental disorders need?
“We need to give people suffering from mental disorder the space they need. Quite often, we are very eager to jump in and help others, but we have to understand that there are people who are not ready to receive help.
“Refrain from imposing our own need to help as this may cause more harm. Instead, we must be aware and acknowledge that there are people who need more time to make the decision to step forward and be ready to seek help or talk about it.
“I believe the most important thing the public needs to know to become a more compassionate society is to refrain from judging others. We will never know, feel or understand what other people are going through. Everyone goes through different things. Support can come in many forms and sometimes, by not imposing judgement, we are already supporting them by making it easier for them to journey through their issues without the need to face the stigma surrounding mental health.”
It is important to note that giving people space does not equate to leaving them to suffer alone, but rather to be there for them when the time arises. Having such an effective and understanding community must be very helpful, however sometimes we may not be able to get help exactly when we need it, so how do you motivate yourself?
“I motivate myself by looking back at my past achievements. Quite often people tend to lose motivation because they did not credit and acknowledge themselves enough for their accomplishments. Many tend to attribute their successes to luck, or people around them. In doing so, they belittle themselves by having thoughts like “anyone else could have done it” or “it is just luck that I did it”. These limiting beliefs will make you believe that you are not good enough.”
By looking back at past achievements, one can be assured that one is on the right track. By focusing on the steps taken to reach a certain point and celebrating the small wins, it is possible to be self-motivated and push yourself further.
Seeing how mental illness is not always obvious, how can we identify the tell-tale signs of others as well as ourselves?
“For others, we can start by observing if they have any sudden change in behaviour or mood. If you do observe any change, approach them and check with them if they are okay. If they say they are okay, accept the answer but let them know that you will be there for them if need a listening ear.
“For ourselves, the easiest way is to think about what are the task/activity that are easily completed in the past but is difficult to complete now. If there is, traceback and try to identify if there is a change in your sleeping patterns, diet, energy level or concentration. These are clues for you to identify the likely cause.”
If you believe that there are some issues bothering you, but are unsure about it, you may consider seeking help. Speaking to a close friend, loved one or someone you trust can prove to be extremely useful. Alternatively, you can speak to a counsellor or psychotherapist to explore the issues that are bothering you when you feel ready.
Just like how people have misconceptions about mental health issues, are there any misconceptions people have about an NPO?
“One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that an NPO must provide their services for free. Like all organisations, NPOs also require funds to sustain the activities. I believe that it is important for an organisation, especially an NPO, to be financially independent, and not be relying on donations, sponsorship or grants. However, despite having a fee to our services, NPOs are different from corporations as we are driven by a mission and aim to create positive social impact. Being financially independent is critical as social impact does not happen overnight.”
Being in tune with the different needs of people to drive social change is no mean feat. Based on your observations, what do you think of the younger generation being labelled as the strawberry generation?
“I believe that the younger generation is labelled as the “strawberry generation” because they are said to “bruise easily”. It is convenient to look at a phenomenon from the surface and place a label on them. But what we fail to see is what is hidden underneath.
“The stress that our generation and our future generations face would be due to information overload. In an era where having a degree is the minimal requirement to get a decent career prospect, the psychosocial and technological stress that this generation faces is different from the physical stress that the previous generations experienced. Play, which is essential to a child’s development and growth, is now no longer deemed necessary but a luxury today.
“To me, they are not weak, but had been strong for too long. They had to be strong at the age where they are supposed to be vulnerable, yet they are not given the chance to do so because of the expectations imposed upon them.”
Different generations experience different difficulties, it is not fair to make comparisons just to prove a point or attempt to gain a better hold of an entire generation. Instead of labelling others, one should always try to understand others from their perspective.
With so much focus on mental health of late, do you still think there is a need for people to should take mental wellbeing more seriously?
“Of course! We often sacrifice our mental wellbeing over other needs. It is never enough to emphasize the importance of mental wellbeing.
“A lot more focus had been placed on physical wellbeing nowadays. However, what we fail to see is that our mental wellbeing is as important as our physical wellbeing. It is beneficial to your physical wellbeing when you take care of your mental wellbeing. When we have stress, depression or anxiety, often it will also lead to having physical behaviour/symptoms such as improper diet, having improper amount of sleep or falling sick more often.
“When was the last time you had allocated a self-care time for yourself? We must remind ourselves that prioritising self-care is not being selfish. It is something we have to do deliberately to recover and take care of ourselves.”
Sometimes that mental break is all we need to feel inspired and motivated to do our best, could you recall an inspiring moment that you have witnessed in your line of work?
“Seeing people getting an “Ah ha!” moment during our outreach events when administering the free mental health assessment. We commonly encounter individuals who feel trapped in their own issues but are unaware of what is the reason causing it. Through the assessment and the short conversation aimed to guide their thoughts, they are able to uncover the cause of their issues. This gives them a clearer picture and the sudden realisation of what they are facing. This really pushes me to continue doing what I do because it validates that advocating about mental health to others can really make a difference”
Seeing how much you love what you do, we were wondering why you decided to co-found an NPO and if you were not in this line, where would you be?
“I always wanted to explore entrepreneurship. It was by chance that I started an NPO as I was intrigued by the idea of managing an organisation while doing good. If not this line, I would likely be opening a bakery selling handmade bread.”
What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation. Join the fight and end the stigma today.
UNDERCOVER is a social series brought to you by VF+c and STATE Creative. Through the series, we seek to impact the lives of our community through authentic stories of inspiring individuals. Each edition, we partner with a social enterprise to shed light on the issues that matter.
For the first edition of UNDERCOVER, we partnered with The Lion Mind, a non-profit organisation (NPO) whose mission is to promote mental wellness and positive psychology through education and partnership with the community. Due to the rise of mental health cases around the world, we endeavour to do our part to normalise conversations around mental health issues through the subjects featured in our campaign.