Let’s talk openly about mental health

Imagine if talking about mental health was as common as talking about our health or diet, even shopping: people would be speaking openly about their personal battles.

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Mental health awareness is a major factor to creating an open and positive environment that could save many lives. 

Following the death of Linkin Park’s vocalist Chester Bennington, which was ruled a suicide, it may be time for us to take a serious look at our awareness of suicide and mental health in general.

The World Health Organization reported in 2015 the number of suicides in Indonesia as 2.9 cases per 100,000 population. At first glance, this is much lower than Thailand (16 suicides per 100,000 population), but the problem is that there are many unreported cases.

Many suicides are unreported because of social stigmas and taboos – not just in Indonesia, but around the world – that hinder people from talking openly about suicide. In a country where every citizen must have a religion, ending one’s own life is considered a sin, and may cause a family to be reluctant about reporting a relative’s death as suicide. This condition also makes it hard for psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health researchers to obtain accurate data and worse, to reach out to a person who may be at risk of suicide to assess their state of mental health and provide necessary treatment.

Another factor is negative public response toward suicide and mental health in general. In March, a man from South Jakarta hanged himself and posted it on Facebook Live. The video went viral, but many comments from netizens mocked him as an attention-seeker.

One of the biggest challenges in Indonesia is the public lack of awareness on mental health. Many of us have a tendency to mock or even bully people who express their frustrations, labeling them weak or simply overreacting, exacerbating the situation and possibly their condition – sometimes causing irreparable and harmful consequences. There are still many people who are not aware that severe depression can cause paranoia and other mental disorders, and provoke thoughts of ending one’s life.

Depression is a mental illness. And like any illness, it does not discriminate. It does not care about age, race, nationality, gender or social status. Even celebrities who seemed to “have everything” – like Chester Bennington or Chris Cornell – suffered from depression. Mental illness is a serious health condition of which awareness needs to be spread, especially among teenagers and millennials who have a bigger risk of depression because of the massive penetration of internet and social media in their lives.

As a survivor of depression and thoughts of suicide myself, here are some ways that you can help yourself and others. Above all, if you suspect that you – or someone you know – might be suffering from depression, please seek professional help. You are loved.


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To help yourself:

Talk to a person you trust

You have friends and/or family who will listen to you. Surround yourself with the people who love you. Talk to them, tell them about your thoughts and feelings, let them know that you need their support. If you’ve tried this or can’t think of who to speak to, talk to a school counselor, psychiatrist or even your family doctor about your feelings and thoughts.

Avoid social media

According to a study by public health researchers at Brown University, the risk of depression among avid social media users is 3.2 times greater than those who don’t use social media.

Go on a digital diet and shut down your social media accounts for a couple of months. Many big-name stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Daniel Radcliffe won’t even go near social media. Shutting down social media will give you a chance to enjoy real-life moments with real-life people who care about you.

Be with people, exercise

You are not alone. Loneliness can foster depression and negative thoughts. Based on my experience, one way to stop feeling isolated is by joining activities. Try signing up for an internship, enter a competition, or volunteer at a local organization.

Regular exercise also helps regulate your mood and encourage positive thoughts. Physical activity increases blood circulation as well as the production of neurotransmitters: dopamine, which is linked to happiness and pleasure, and serotonin, which helps stabilize mood.

Talk to a professional

If you’ve already done these things but still don’t feel better, talk to a professional.

If you’re not ready to talk to a counselor, psychologist or other specialist in person, you can start by talking anonymously through free online psychology consultations.

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To help others:

Just listen

Sometimes, all someone needs is a friendly ear. Just listen to them, and give advice only when they ask for it. Sometimes the issue is not about how difficult the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting them. Show that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that is okay for them to share their pain with you.

Be compassionate, patient, calm and accepting. Give comforting and encouraging responses like: “What can I do to help you?”, “I understand”, or “I’m always here to listen.” Let the person know you care about them, that they are not alone.

Don’t judge

One reason why some people might be reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings is because they are afraid of being judged.

Keep in mind that this is about them. Listen to what they feel and think, and don’t lay down any blame. It’s about how they feel and think, and how this is affecting the way they see themselves.

Suggest professional help

If the person doesn’t feel any better, gradually suggest getting professional help. Reassure the person that such help is available and their negative feelings are temporary. Let the person knows that they are important to you. Offer to go with them, if this makes them feel more comfortable about the idea.

Prevent bullying

Bullying is abuse; it is not acceptable. If you encounter any form of bullying, including cyberbullying and body shaming, step in and speak up, try to get others to do the same or report it to a parent, teacher, university dean or other authority figures.

Every year, millions of people around the world face the reality of living with a mental health condition. This can affect our friends, family, loved ones, colleagues and even ourselves. Keep informed and learn how to recognize warning signs and know who you would go to for help if you suspect you or someone you know might be experiencing depression.

Mental health awareness is a major factor to creating an open and positive environment that could save many lives. Imagine if talking about mental health was as common as talking about our health or diet, even shopping: people would be speaking openly about their personal battles. Whether it’s about the latest treatment or how mental health affects your life or the life of someone you love, sharing our experiences can only empower us and others.

To borrow the words of Kim Kirkup, a licensed American counselor: “Suicide doesn’t take away the pain. It just passes it on to someone else.”

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