Mental Illness or Jinn Disturbance?
It has been approximately a year since Shahirah*, 29, has seen anything beyond the walls of her home. Any attempts to reach out to the world outside had been stonewalled by her mother; Shahirah was neither allowed to have a mobile phone nor use the house phone, what chance did she have to have Internet access?
For six years Shahirah’s parents have escorted her to numerous traditional healers or shamans, in hopes that their only daughter would be released from the hold of a man she had given all her love and money to.
When Shahirah went on to empty her mother’s savings account, the shamans said that the man had casted a spell on her. Later when Shahirah escaped and disappeared, the shamans ‘saw’ that the man had eloped with her to Thailand. When she was found a month on roaming the streets of Bugis, the shamans amended their tales and claimed that it was now her mother who was under the spell.
Throughout the years, from being chauffeured to and fro from work, Shahirah was then forbidden to go to work, and on the advise of a shaman (“If she looks out the window, she will be hypnotized by the man!”), she is now imprisoned within her home.
Ironically, in their fear of their only daughter being shackled by the black magic of the ‘evil man’, Shahirah’s parents failed to notice that they have in fact shackled her with their own well-meaning chains.
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Stories like Shahirah’s are not uncommon even against the modern backdrop of urban Singapore. As technology, education and breakthroughs in medicine advance, countless mindsets still choose to dwell in the past, entranced by an embroidery of folklore and myths.
Often, persons affected with mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder that cause erratic behavior are met with a certain stigma by the society, thus building walls and preventing their recovery process. Shahirah’s parents, for example, refused to refer their daughter for counseling sessions because the shaman had told them there was no need for it.
Produced by Club HEAL Ex-Co member Hidayah Amin in collaboration with award-winning director Sanif Olek, a series of short films highlighting these widespread stigmas have recently been released.
In the five real-life inspired short films, viewers are taken through an insightful journey towards understanding what person with mental illnesses go through, and the stigmas that prevent them from medical care.
Two out of the five films, PUTRI and AMIRA, depict individuals who are in dire need of psychiatric help but whose parents adamantly saw their child’s problem as one caused by the ‘evil eye’. In ZUL, the plight of a man struggling to make ends meet whilst undergoing treatment for his mental illness is portrayed, while ALI tells the story of a depressed man being abused by his wife.
Lastly, HEROES is a collection of different real individuals sharing the type of mental illnesses they have, thus bringing the point across that: “They are brave enough to acknowledge their conditions. Are you brave enough to admit your ignorance?”
Often, as the film ZUL shows, society fails to realize that people with psychiatric disabilities need more than just medication and treatment to help them get better; they too need the social support to enable them to stand back on their feet and gain independence, becoming thus a useful member of society.
Club HEAL is a non-profitable society that aims to assist and empower persons with mental illness to regain confidence in themselves and others in their journey towards community reintegration. Their vision is to eradicate the stigma surrounding persons with mental illness thereby breaking unnecessary barriers to their recovery process.
The society provides a range of activities and programs to achieve their cause, from day rehabilitations services that include psychoeducation, counseling and skills training for participants, organizing public talks, training courses for volunteers as well as home visits for participants of their program.
Since its launch a year ago, Club HEAL has improved the lives of many with mental disabilities, one of them Yohanna Abdullah. In her testimony, the journalist wrote, “I can see that Club HEAL really heals and gives each and everyone of us a chance to heal, grow and contribute.”
If you or someone you know needs help, or if you wish to be an intern, volunteer, or sponsor for Club Heal, please contact 8400 6306 or email them at [email protected].
Perhaps one day, with your newfound awareness and assistance, Shahirah will truly be free.
*not real name[divider]
Nur Fadhilah Wahid
Fadhilah is a seeker of knowledge at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. She blogs at www.fadhilahwahid.com