The Fear of Stigmatization: Sylvester’s Story

Editor’s Note: In this story, Sylvester shares his innermost thoughts on seeking help and treatment for depression, and touches on low self-esteem which has plagued him most of his young life. Previously not understanding the nature of depression, he talks about stigma and recognises the harmful effects of stereotyping. He no longer judges people with mental health struggles today, and seeks to advocate for them by sharing his experiences. 


‘Why Bother?’ was the title of the first chapter in The Confidence Gap. Indeed, I wondered to myself, why bother? I have been battling my low self-esteem for years. Initially, being diagnosed with adolescent depression came as a huge shock. But I realize now in retrospect that I had simply been in denial. .

Like many other Singaporeans, I was condescending and doubtful toward those with depression.

My first question was: is depression even a legitimate illness? It never occurred to me that my persistent low moods and even lower dips over the course of months have been affecting almost every aspect of my life. I became withdrawn from social interaction, had trouble sleeping, and felt excessively guilty over small matters. All these took a toll on my relationship with my loved ones. I started to eat much less and sleep much less. My weight loss was significant.

However, throughout this ordeal, it never occurred to me that I needed to see a doctor. I thought it was just a phase of growing up I had to do.

In fact, I was afraid to put a label to whatever I was going through.

Only when my parents and doctor probed did I consider seeing a psychiatrist.

I started on Fluoxetine for a month and also saw a psychotherapist to help me overcome the way I viewed myself. The biggest barrier to seeking help was stereotyping. I didn’t want to be viewed as “weak” by my peers, especially since I considered myself a source of support and an aunt agony of sorts for many friends. I thought to myself, “If I can’t even handle my own emotions, how do I even help others?”

1 in 6 Singaporeans encountering a form of mental illness in their lifetime is indeed an astounding statistic. However, many don’t seek help for the same reason as me: fear of stigmatization.

There is insufficient knowledge and public awareness for the mentally ill, be it the person diagnosed with schizophrenia or depression.

Many people, like me, don’t even know that they are suffering from depression when the symptoms are clear.

And the perils of depression being left untreated are not to be taken lightly.

The superfluous thoughts of hopelessness and despair, coupled with the feeling of solitude, is the perfect formula for suicidal thoughts. How many times have you felt alone in this world? As if nobody can understand why your mood fluctuates so extremely?

The truth is, you’re not alone.

Take it from me. Your loved ones are around. Moreover, if you can’t even find it in you to trust yourself , then the road to recovery is going to be long and grim.

So take the first step, and trust that things will get better. Then trust the people around you with your problems. If a lack of public awareness is a hurdle to recovery, then knowledge is the best cure.

Don’t let the opinions of others make you afraid of seeking help. We are the master of our fates, the captain of our souls – let yourself be in total control of your life and decisions.

Sylvester is year 3 biomedical science student in Ngee Ann Polytechnic with an interest in advocating for mental health matters.

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