Voice Out 2017: Challenging Silence and Stigma through Song

Editor’s Note: Weathering the storms of mental illness and stigma took a literal turn at this music festival. Here’s a detailed piece by Tapestry contributor Yi Feng, who attended “Voice Out! Concert In The Park”–a music event aimed at breaking the silence of stigma through song. It was held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on 7 October in celebration of World Mental Health Day. 

Martin Luther King Jr. once said: In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Societal stigma, shame and secrecy are commonly associated with mental illness. Many persons with mental health issues (PMHI) retreat within and suffer in silence, particularly at the most critical phase of their illness where they need the most social support. Slam poet and educator-activist Clint Smith calls out on this “danger of silence”.

By telling the stories of persons with lived experiences through songs, I found Voice Out an innovative way of garnering attention to the cause of mental health. With the support of eight corporate sponsors and 25 community mental health partners, the event is a testimony of people-public-private collaboration at its best.

The Human Library (Mental Health Edition) also had individuals or “human books” share their personal brushes with mental illness with the public, as one of the concert’s fringe activities.

Saturday’s rain threatened to douse the spirits of the concert-goers as dark clouds loomed overhead and delayed the start of the concert.

Yet despite this, according to the organizer’s Facebook page there was a strong showing of over 3,000 people. Many remained unfazed, decked out in ponchos, armed with umbrellas, and picnic baskets. Kudos to the cheery volunteers who went around in the drizzle to tend to the crowd!

Concert supporters who persisted despite the rain. (Image credit: Author’s own)

Stories through song

The concert kicked off with tunes by aspiring singer-songwriter Mano Esperanza, PMHI and staff at Club HEAL staff. His rendition moved hearts and reminded the audience that aspirations do not die with the diagnosis of a mental illness!

Community psychiatric nurse and Suria actor Haizad Imram took to the stage next with his wife, Alia Demelda Sharma. Alia bravely shared her story of dealing with post-natal depression after the birth of their son. The couple’s story showed that baby blues is real, and not to be trivalized. Mothers need support and can recover well with strong support from family and friends.

It was around this time that a full rainbow decorated the sky above which the concert was held.

After the rain, comes the rainbow, just as after a storm, comes the calm. (Image credit: Author’s own)

Counsellor and former Project Superstar contestant Amanda Lee gave her testimony, mentioning the “irony” she felt as a mental health professional seeking help for her own mental health issues. It reminded us that mental health challenges does not discriminate.

Singer Chloe Seah aptly belted out covers of two meaningful songs, calling for the audience to see each other’s “True Colours” and “Count on me” to friends going through a rough patch.

Finalists of reality singing contest “The Final One,” (2013) Marc Than and Hashy Yusof shared their struggles when Hashy was diagnosed with astrocytoma, a tumour in her spinal cord with threat of paralysis. They sought treatment and was rewarded for their tenacity. Hashy had to re-learn how to walk again post-op, and suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety.

I found their original “Battles” most meaningful, as it encapsulated the powerful emotions that the couple went through during those trying times.

While relationships are not easy, the steadfast support from loved ones in tough times matter greatly.

Stepping up, voicing out

After the rain, comes the SUN! Stephanie Sun, that is.

Mandopop superstar, Stefanie Sun (Image credit: 8days)

The crowd went wild when homegrown Mandopop singer-songwriter superstar Stefanie Sun Yan Zi took to the stage.

Earlier in 2011, Stefanie disclosed that she has been battling depression for a year. In her most trying time, she mentioned she was highly negative and could hardly speak.

When asked by veteran DJ and emcee Jean Danker on what helped, Stefanie said that making lists of to-dos and checking them off helped her. Some of the tasks were as simple as getting out of bed, brushing teeth and showering.

Stefanie took photos with her adoring audience who waved their lit up mobiles, creating a sea of shimmering beacons in the background. It was a beautiful sight.

I find it encouraging that high-profile celebrities like Stefanie Sun are “coming out” publicly to disclose their personal battles with mental health issues. This certainly helps to create and normalize conversations surrounding our mental health.

The concert closed with guest-of-honour, Parliamentary Secretary (MCCY) and “social media pro” Mr Baey Yam Keng taking to the stage with others to sing “Voice Out”.

Written specially for the concert, the song was created by composer Jack Lim, mental health GP Dr Joel Foo, and his daughter Janelle Foo. Sung by Chanel Pang, Soong Jiamin, Mano Esperanza, Haizad Imran, and Renay Pereira, they urged the audience to “voice out” their troubles, feelings and thoughts.

It was an apt call to action. Together, we can stamp out stigma and shatter the silence around negative stereotypes of persons-in-recovery. Let’s confront the danger of silence by voicing out!

About our Tapestry contributor: 

Known as the “SEA mental health guy” to his friends, Yi Feng is a mental health advocate passionate about bringing “mental wellness for all, by all, with all”. In his undergraduate years, he founded the NUS Mental Health Wing in the National University of Singapore to raise awareness on issues relating to youth mental health through open conversations and capacity-building workshops. Yi Feng now works to foster effective people-public-private partnerships in Singapore to increase mental health conversations and reduce stigma.

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