HARESH SAYS: Correcting a sick society

As published in Malay Mail today

By Haresh Deol 

HE waved the machete in the air before striking. His other accomplice joined in as they hacked the woman repeatedly. A family member could only throw a slipper or two before she was threatened by the two men.
Neighbours could only watch from afar, horrified but afraid of confronting the suspects. The victim could only sit on the road, begging for mercy. They slashed her head, her back, and if one watches closely, the sharp blade of the machete could have cut her face.
A video of the Oct 1 incident went viral online. Police arrested two men the same day. The victim, in her 20s, is said to be in critical condition at Port Dickson Hospital.
If she pulls through, she will be physically and emotionally scarred for life. She will no longer look at men the same way.
A similar scene was seen in Iraq.
Children joined the elders as they lined up the street in Mosul, some 400km north of Baghdad. There was a speaker as men, mostly dressed in black and with rifles, addressed the crowd. But the circus was not in town.
The “ringmaster” was in fact a member of the Islamic State terror group. The main act was a public execution.
Photos of the execution first appeared on international terrorism watchdog group Terror Monitor on Oct 2. The series of pictures have appeared on several international media websites since.
The first picture showed a blindfolded man led to the centre of the road. The man was kneeling in the second photograph, with a gun pointed at his head.
The final picture was that of several men carrying the blindfolded man, blood splattered on the road and his face.
As Mr Blindfolded died, one wonders what went through the mind of the executioner just before he pulled the trigger. What about the young ‘spectators’? They saw a bullet enter a man’s head before he collapsed. It was no movie. It was the real deal. Will they grow up to condone such barbaric acts? Will this jeapordise their sense of logic?
To hack or kill a fellow human being in broad daylight and in public eye is disturbing. Those committing such acts are mentally disturbed. No right-minded human being, despite the intense hatred, would hurt another in such manner. We don’t even hurt animals in such manner. 
We live in a pressure-cooker and judgmental society, causing mental stress to many. The mentally strong are able to pull through but the numbers are small. The majority would either run away or unwillingly allow their logic and thinking be disrupted. They are then no longer rational. Their sanity slowly erodes.
Unlike other form of diseases, many would not want to speak about mental illness. The masses must realise mental illness can hit any of us at any age. Such a disease have serious repercussions, from committing crime to suicidal thoughts. Yet, many continue to debate about sexuality, religion and everything else but health.
According to a poll by the National Health and Morbidity in 2011, 12 per cent of Malaysians aged between 18 and 60 have mental health issues. The numbers continue to grow.
Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, had during the ‘Sayangi Nyawa, Hidupkan Harapan’ seminar in Putrajaya last Thursday, said there were 45 government hospitals nationwide with 224 psychiatrists and 12 psychologist officers (clinical) providing psychiatric and mental health services.
He would agree the number of experts in the country remains small to serve our 30-odd million population. The materialistic lifestyle, continuous rise in cost of living and peer pressure often result in domestic disputes or even fleeing homeland to join a cause in the name of religion or to find a purpose in life.
I had on May 21 last year (Show love and compassion for the mentally ill) wrote about those with disturbed minds.
However, it is not just about the “gila man” who society constantly mocks for speaking to himself in his filthy clothes in the middle of the road. It is also about professionals who seek other ways of expressing themselves  — be it through designer drugs or secretly sinning — as an outlet to release their anger and pain.
The best medicine would be to have a caring society. This would mean one took the time to engage with the person next to you. If more people cared about each other, it would significantly reduce any form of mental stress or signal if a person was facing a woe. There could be more to the excessive laughter or burst of anger.
The government should join forces with the many non-governmental organisations to further educate the masses on the importance of mental health. It is a serious matter that affects all.
As we celebrate World Mental Health Day this Saturday, let’s strive to create a mentally healthy society — one without  ill feelings, no signs of depression and able to withstand and learn from criticisms or failures. We must rid the stigma surrounding mental illness. This will promise a progressive community.
Award-winning actress Glenn Close says it the best in her 2010 article in Huffington Post.
“It is an odd paradox that a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.”
It starts from us.

HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @HareshDeol


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