Every July we commemorate a very important day – Racial Harmony Day! Racial Harmony Day is commemorated to remember those who lost their lives during the racial riots in the past and to build strong ties amongst members of the different races in the present. To show our support for this significant event, we will be sharing the experiences, challenges and aspirations of members from different minority communities every week for the month of July.
This week, we’d like to hear from our Malay peers about their experience living in Singapore as well as the mental health scene in their community. Names have been changed to protect the identities of our interviewees.
1) Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your race in Singapore? If yes, can you give an example?
In primary 2, I had to hold my male classmate’s hand in school. He immediately snatched his hand away when I held it and said “Ew. I don’t want to hold hands with Malay!” In my secondary school CCA, which was ‘Chinese Orchestra’, my school conductor (who only spoke mandarin) would only address me as “ma lai ren”, which means ‘Malay person’ as I was the first Malay to join that CCA.
I’m not consciously aware of or recall if I have faced any discrimination solely because of my race. I have, however, been discriminated due to my religion (Muslim). In late 2019/ early 2020, I was looking for my very first job and had been given my first callback from a recruiter after a few weeks of sending in applications. After discussing the job’s specifics – location, shifts etc, the recruiter asked whether I would be okay with removing my hijab for the job. For context, I included a photo of myself, with my hijab on, in my resume. Even though I’ve heard stories from others who have had to face this, I was still dumbfounded by the question. The recruiter then followed up by saying that it would be a requirement for me to not wear my hijab for this job. I rejected the offer and after the call, it just felt like a very odd experience. Leaving the “hijab question” as the very last question felt like the recruiter had no respect for me, as a hijab wearer. And it felt as though it was treated as something that I would easily sacrifice just for a job.
Mostly when I was younger. Other kids would sometimes tease me about my skin colour. I was also sometimes unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) left out of conversations when they start speaking in Chinese. I did not really experience it as much as I got older but it may be because I tend to be ‘Chinese-passing’ so I do not get singled out as much.
2) How are mental health issues seen/talked about among your family/community?
I think that talking about this issue is quite liberal now and most younger people don’t have that much stigma against it. However, the elderly still may not share the same views.
It’s not actively spoken about within my family. When it is talked about, it usually happens in the context of an argument.
There is more awareness and understanding with more Malay programmes on TV inviting professionals to talk about these issues and broadcasting it on a large platform. These shows have helped my family be more aware of such problems!
3) What kind of support do you wish you had for your community?
It would be great to have more support for those with mental health conditions like ADHD or depression for underprivileged students as most of these students would not have much access to, knowledge about, and financial resources to support their mental health.
When looking for mental health outreach programmes, I hope to find more catered to the Malay/Muslim community.
For this issue, I feel like familial support is needed. Most households uphold religious values and sometimes (in my house at least) feelings are justified according to religion, and sometimes, people don’t want/need to hear that as it may not always be the case. Especially because there are many other things that could lead to people developing or having worsening mental illness such as abusive or not conducive households, high stress (and perhaps no close outlet to relieve it), being poor (no money to afford therapy sessions).
4) Would you go for counselling in Singapore, or what would your family think if you went for counselling?
I will only go if it’s serious and if the situation is out of my control. However, if I had a problem, I would confide in my family/friends first and would only go for counselling as a last resort. This could be because if I went for counselling, my family would think I am mentally ill and a little unhinged. They would probably assume I have depression and am a crazy person.
Yes, I have been considering going for counselling/ reaching out to CHAT for a mental health check. However, I wouldn’t inform my family if I do decide to go.
I would consider going if I am able to have the money to support consistent counselling sessions. It’s harder for those who don’t have sufficient funds to put aside for self-care when they have to worry about more pressing matters like food and necessities. Similarly, I think my family would be alright with me going for counselling only if it was low-cost or free of charge.
5) What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with mental health issues in Singapore in your community?
I would encourage them to consult a mental health professional to receive the help they need. If they have difficulties doing so or are not willing to do so, I would do my best to help them by providing a listening ear
Find your safe space. It may be a physical or mental safe space, but as long as you can go back to it when you’re facing a difficult time, hopefully it will make things easier.
Though the situation is pretty challenging, it is and will get better. It’s good to know that Singapore is going in the right direction by trying to educate everyone on mental health so that we all can better understand one another.
We thank our three friends for taking the time to share their experiences with us and our fellow readers 🙂
As you can see, much work and progress is needed to make sure our Malay peers feel safe in our shared spaces. Perhaps it is also a call to us to check our own behaviours, biases and beliefs when interacting with others. Let’s work towards creating a more inclusive Singapore for all!
A Kind Place supports and is welcoming to everyone from all walks of life, gender identity, orientation, and backgrounds. If you have any questions or would like to book a session with us, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com or WhatsApp us here.