During my Form 5 year in 2011, I only attended 133 days of school, out of 197. I missed 64 days of school in my SPM year.
I scored 7A’s and 2B’s in my SPM, so don’t worry, I wasn’t a dropout or a poor student. I was just severely depressed.
I isolated myself from my peers, eating alone at recess and losing my previously outgoing demeanour. My class teacher hounded me for a reason for my absences. I would ask my mother to write me a note each time I missed school, and she obliged, because she knew I was spending all of my energy staying on top of my grades.
She wasn’t well-versed on just what it meant to have a depressed child, but in the nine years since she has educated herself and become a resounding pillar of strength for me.
My class teacher threatened to write me a poor character review on my leaving certificate. I told her to go right ahead because I didn’t care very much anything at all. I was 17 years old, and I couldn’t visualise my future.
Welcome to the reality of depression, an illness that most teachers don’t even know how to recognise.
I was told to my face that I had a masalah mental (mental problems) when I told teachers I didn’t want to come to school.
The sheer lack of tact and sensitivity I faced highlight one key takeaway message: our teachers are not trained for this.
They see a troubled student and hackles go up before any sort of empathy is expressed. Teachers are regularly sent for courses, so what’s one more on mental health sensitivity and training?
Most schools are supplied with counsellors; imagine if they were all qualified to recognise a panic attack or manic depressive episode. Peer support, invaluable as it can be for a struggling adolescent, cannot occur until there is a real change to the way mental health is understood.
The taboo that envelopes the topics of depression and mental illness is as unfounded as it is damaging. It’s not ‘stress’ or ‘sadness’ – these are merely symptoms – but a chemical imbalance. Anyone can experience it, and so many do.
Glad as I am that the topic of mental health is finally being raised in the public sphere, I can’t help but wonder about all of those who fell through the cracks, like I did.
Labelled lazy, or problematic, and left to fend for themselves. Struggling to visualise their futures and convinced that they were existing on borrowed time.
There are no words for how essential mental health support for young Malaysians truly is, but I hope that by sharing my own traumatic experiences, change will begin to unfold.
To anyone struggling with a mental illness in Malaysia: I see you, and you are not alone.
Help is out there.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.