Since today is Human Rights Day, we’ve decided to address issues regarding two different groups of people: the lgbtq+ community and disabled people (further grouped into: people with physical disabilities, neurodivergent people, and people with mental illnesses).
What does LGBTQ+ stand for?
The reason it’s important to add a ‘+’ to the end of LGBT is because there are many more sexualities and genders than just lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. When we leave out the ‘+’ at the end of LGBT, we fail to recognize, and ultimately invalidate the sexualities and gender identities that are not represented by LGBT – these include pansexuality, asexuality, gender fluidity, etc. The following are a few definitions of some of the sexualities and genders represented by LGBTQ+ (this list is not exhaustive) :
Lesbian – A lesbian is a homosexual woman who experiences romantic love or sexual attraction towards other women.
Gay – Gay is a term that primarily refers to a homosexual person or the trait of being homosexual. Gay is often used to describe homosexual males but lesbians may also be referred to as gay.
Bisexual – Bisexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction towards both men and women.
Transgender – Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. It is sometimes abbreviated to trans.
Transsexual – A transsexual person is someone who identifies as the opposite sex to the one they were assigned at birth.
Queer – Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual or cisgender.
Questioning – The questioning of one’s gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or all three is a process of exploration by people who may be unsure, still exploring, and concerned about applying a social label to themselves for various reasons.
Pansexual – Romantic or sexual attraction to people of any sex or gender identity.
Asexual – Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone, or low or absent interest in sexual activity. It may be considered the lack of a sexual orientation, or one of the variations thereof, alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.
Agender – Agender people are those who identify as having no gender or being without any gender identity. This category includes a very broad range of identities which do not conform to traditional gender norms.
Genderfluid – Genderfluid people move from one gender to another (or more!).
In many places worldwide, homophobic language and homophobia in general, is very common, which is truly heartbreaking, especially considering the fact that LGBTQ+ people get discriminated against for something that is innate. Words like f*ggot, tr*nny, etc. are used in daily conversations, and although these words might not hold their literal meanings anymore, our use of homophobic language continues to oppress LGBTQ+ people and makes them feel guilty about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The homophobia inherent in places all around the world and the numerous incidents incited by homophobia and discrimination, has led to an increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders in LGBTQ+ people. In fact, according to The Trevor Project, the rate of suicide is 4 times greater for LGBTQ+ youth than straight youth, and each episode of LGBTQ+ victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behaviour by 2.5 times on average 😦
It’s our responsibility to prevent ourselves and others from perpetuating homophobia and subsequently contributing to the rise of depression and other severe problems in LGBTQ+ people by not engaging in homophobic language, misgendering people and invalidating their sexual orientation. *To keep yourself from accidentally misgendering someone, make it a habit to ask people for their pronouns and use gender-neutral terms (such as, them, child (instead of boy or girl), etc.), and to keep yourself from inadvertently invalidating someone’s sexual orientation, don’t assume others’ sexuality.
LGBTQ+ Rights in Singapore
In Singapore, issues regarding the LGBTQ+ community are generally considered taboo and there is a lot of social stigma surrounding the community, particularly due to the lack of laws protecting them from discrimination at their workplaces, housing estates, etc., and the numerous laws in place that deprive same-sex couples of the rights that heterosexual couples have – such as, adoption of children, sexual intimacy, etc. Article 12 of the Constitution of Singapore guarantees everyone in Singapore equality before the law and equal protection of the law – however, section 377a of the Penal Code and the lack of protection of LGBTQ+ people from discrimination clearly contradicts this statement.
Although Pink Dot has been allowed to hold annual gatherings to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and many other LGBTQ+ organizations have been established in Singapore, not much progress has been made in terms of the slackening of laws that bar LGBTQ+ people from the basic rights that heterosexual people have. According to the government, this is particularly due to Singapore’s conservative and heteronormative culture, which is why it’s now our responsibility to eliminate heteronormativity in Singapore by understanding that even sexual orientations and gender identities other than heterosexuality and male or female are valid, and accepting LGBTQ+ people into our society so that they can regain the rights they deserve.
But honestly, I’ve never understood why someone else’s sexual orientation or gender identity could bother people so much; it’s their sexuality and gender, not yours for you to be so affected by it – doesn’t everyone deserve the right to love whoever they want to? Why do LGBTQ+ people have to keep fighting for something that they’re entitled to? It will certainly take time, but we’re sure that LGBTQ+ people will finally get the rights they deserve. Till then, it’s the society’s duty to continue supporting them and helping them fight for their rights – you can do this by joining or volunteering at Pink Dot events and protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination by speaking up against homophobia and advocating for their right to love.
Oogachaga – Hotline: 6226 2002
– Whatsapp: 8592 0609
Everyone deserves a seat at the table:
I do not need gender: http://everyoneisgay.tumblr.com/post/135330517892/i-do-not-need-gender
What is agender?: http://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-is-agender
Beyond 377A: http://www.aware.org.sg/2012/09/beyond-377a/
People with physical disabilities
A physical disability is any condition that permanently prevents normal body movement and/or control. There are many different types of physical disabilities. Some of the main but lesser known ones include:
When a child has muscular dystrophy, this means that the muscle fibres in the body gradually weaken over time. Children can have different types of muscular dystrophy. The most common type is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which occurs only in boys. All types of muscular dystrophy are genetic even though other family members may not have the condition.
More information here: Muscular dystrophy.
Acquired brain and spinal injuries
Physical disabilities may result from permanent injuries to the brain, spinal cord or limbs that prevent proper movement in parts of the body.
More information here: Acquired brain injury.
Sometimes, a baby’s spinal cord (the nerves that run down the spine) do not develop normally during pregnancy. When this happens, the child can have a physical disability called spina bifida. The type and amount of disability caused by spina bifida depends on the level of the abnormality of the spinal cord.
Children with spina bifida may have:
- partial or full paralysis of the legs
- difficulties with bowel and bladder control
- hydrocephalus (high pressure on the brain because of fluid not being drained away as normal)
- bone and joint deformities (they may not grow normally)
- curvature (bending) of the spine.
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the parts of the brain which control movement during the early stages of development. In most cases, this damage occurs during pregnancy. However, damage can sometimes occur during birth and from brain injuries in early infancy (such as lack of oxygen from near drowning, meningitis, head injury or being shaken).
Children with cerebral palsy may have difficulties with:
- posture (the ability to put the body in a chosen position and keep it there)
- movement of body parts or the whole body
- muscle weakness or tightness
- involuntary muscle movements (spasms)
- balance and coordination
- talking and eating
Ableism (TW: Ableist language)
Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities, including the expression of hate for people with disabilities, rejection of disabled applicants for housing and jobs, institutionalised discrimination in the form of benefits systems designed to keep people with disabilities in poverty, etc.
It is difficult to believe, but many of us are guilty of ableism almost on a daily basis. An astounding number of people use ableist language in their day to day conversations without realising it. Ableist language is any word or phrase that devalues people who have physical or mental disabilities. Its appearance often stems not from any intentional desire to offend, but from our innate sense of what it means to be normal. For those who don’t have a disability, that is their normal. For someone who is blind, or who has autism, or who uses a wheelchair, that is their normal. As individuals, we sometimes forget this and go on believing that we all are the same kind of normal. And that’s where the problems begin. Inadvertent though it may be, ableist language implies that people not like us are somehow abnormal, and it can especially isolate and marginalize those with disabilities.
Take the word lame. Consider the statement, “Nickelback is lame.” What the speaker really means is that Nickelback is horrible, or insipid, or noisome. In that statement, lame is equated with one or more of those negative words. Now consider someone who uses a wheelchair — someone who is physically lame. Does that make them a horrible, insipid, noisome person? No, but that can be the implication.
“But I didn’t mean it that way!”
Of course you didn’t. You’re a nice and thoughtful person. But people don’t read what you meant, they read what you wrote or allowed to be published. As Bischoff says, “What we may have intended doesn’t really matter, because the power of words lies in how they’re received.” Your first reaction might be that this is political correctness run amok, that people just aren’t that sensitive. It’s true that some people — regardless of ability — are not easily offended. But avoiding ableist language isn’t just about avoiding offense. “Those types of usages affect the way that we perceive those words,” Bischoff says. When we use words like lame, crazy, insane, schizo, dumb, psycho, retarded and spazzed without thinking, we silently imply — and readers infer — that mental and physical disorders are avoidable personal failings and not medical conditions out of a person’s control.
Ableism in Singapore
The 2007 and 2012 masterplans for the development of policies and services for people with disabilities contributed to their inclusion in society tremendously, especially the improvement of infrastructure and increase in accessibility to certain places (like public transport, shopping malls, etc.) for people with disabilities through the introduction of wheel-chair friendly access routes and through the addition of more capacity to residential facilities.
However, despite the government’s efforts in trying to include people with disabilities in our society, many people feel uncomfortable interacting with them and accepting them into our society. According to a survey of 1000 people with disabilities (conducted by the National Council of Social Service), 62% of the people surveyed felt that they were not included, accepted or given opportunities to contribute or reach their potential by the society. And according to another survey of 1,000 people on their attitudes towards children with disabilities, almost two-thirds of those surveyed shared that although they were willing to share public spaces with children with disabilities, they were less willing to interact with the children, and over one-third of those surveyed said that children with disabilities are not part of their social circle.
To break down the segregation between able-bodied people and people with disabilities, it’s important that we interact with people with disabilities more often and encourage our loved ones to do the same as well – by doing so, we can prevent people with disabilities from being alienated from society and gradually become a more inclusive society.
Ableist words/phrases and their alternatives: https://journeyofisajennie.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/ableistphrases/
10 reasons to give up ableist language: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-cohenrottenberg/doing-social-justice-thou_b_5476271.html
We’d like to begin with the definition of neurodivergent – it refers to the brain functioning in a way that is different from the dominant societal standards of “normal”. It constitutes a number of mental conditions, such as autism and dyslexia. However, neurodivergence doesn’t only constitute developmental and learning disabilities – it can also include psychiatric disabilities like bipolar disorder and OCD. In many countries worldwide, there is a lot of social stigma surrounding neurodivergent people that mainly stems from them being different from neurotypical people (people whose brains function like the dominant societal standards of “normal”).
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. ASD can be associated with difficulties in social interaction, difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication and intellectual disability. The way in which a person with an ASD interacts with another individual is quite different compared to how the rest of the population behaves. If the symptoms are not severe, the person with ASD may seem socially clumsy, sometimes offensive in his/her comments, or out of sync with everyone else. If the symptoms are more severe, the person may not seem to be interested in other people at all.
A person with autism may often miss the cues we give each other when we want to catch somebody’s attention and might not know that somebody is trying to talk to them. They may also be very interested in talking to a particular person or group of people, but do not have the same skills as others to become fully involved. Individuals with autism find it much harder to understand people’s feelings or to instinctively empathize with them. However, if they are frequently reminded of this, the ability to take other people’s feelings into account improves tremendously.
A number of children with an ASD do not like cuddling or being touched like other children do. However, this is not true for all children with autism. Individuals with autism might find sudden loud noises, certain smells and changes in light intensity unpleasant and quite shocking. The higher the severity of the autism, the more affected are a person’s speaking skills. Many children with an ASD do not speak at all. People with autism will often repeat words or phrases they hear – also referred to as echolalia.
Individuals with autism like predictability and routine. The repetitive behavior could be a simple hop-skip-jump from one end of the room to the other, repeated again and again for one, five, or ten minutes – or even longer. Another could be drawing the same picture again and again, page after page.
A person with autism feels love, happiness, sadness and pain, just like everyone else. Just because some of them may not express their feelings in the same way others do, does not mean that they do not have feelings – THEY DO!! It is crucial that we all play a part in destroying this myth completely.
Children with autism do not outgrow it, but symptoms may lessen with intervention. Structured intervention and training will help individuals acquire living skills, like how to prepare food and to shower, but will not cure the condition. The Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children provides therapy and educational support services for infants and young children with special needs. Some voluntary organisations provide therapy for youngsters, teaching skills in mobility, play and socialising and helping them better adapt to the environment.
The incidence of dyslexia in Singapore is within the international range of 3% to 10% of the population. There are about 20,000 primary and secondary school students who are dyslexic.
A good way to understand dyslexia is to establish what it is not. It’s not a sign of low intelligence or laziness. It’s also not due to poor vision. It’s a common condition that affects the way the brain processes written and spoken language. Dyslexia is primarily associated with trouble reading, but it can also affect writing, spelling and even speaking. People with dyslexia can still understand complex ideas. Sometimes, they just need more time to work through the information. They may also need a different way to process the information, such as listening to an audiobook instead of reading it.
Some kids with dyslexia have trouble with reading and spelling. Others may struggle to write or to tell left from right. Some children don’t seem to struggle with early reading and writing, but later on, they have trouble with complex language skills, such as grammar, reading comprehension and more in-depth writing.
Dyslexia can also make it difficult for people to express themselves clearly. It can be hard for them to structure their thoughts during conversation. They may have trouble finding the right words to say. Others struggle to understand what they’re hearing. This is especially true when someone uses nonliteral language such as jokes and sarcasm.
The Dyslexia Association of Singapore has psychologists, speech and language therapists and educational therapists. It offers screening, psychological assessments and specialist teaching to children between six and 17 years old. Tests are also offered to preschool children.
Person-first and Identity-first language
Many neurotypical people support usage of person-first language (e.g. individual with autism), however, some people with mental disorders have mentioned their preference for identity-first language. Mental disorders like autism and dyslexia (and even some physical disabilities) cannot be prevented or cured, which is why they become an inherent aspect of an individual’s identity, and is also the reason why some people prefer identity-first language instead of their disorder being separated from their identity. However, it varies from person to person, and some people prefer person-first language as that they would rather not be defined or judged by their disorder. Therefore, it’s essential that you ask a person for their preference before deciding which language to use for them.
Due to their disability not being visible, neurodivergent people’s needs are generally overlooked in society; people usually forget about their disorder and attribute their social awkwardness to poor character or poor upbringing. In Singapore, although autism affects 1 in 68 children, society’s awareness of this disorder is low, and people usually refuse to interact or feel uncomfortable interacting with autistic people and other neurodivergent people. Many parents of autistic children have reported incidents where they received rude remarks from strangers about not being able to control their children and even incidents where their children were berated for behaving in an untypical way. Many of us have probably been ableist towards neurodivergent people too, with or without knowing it, by being cautious around them, giving them stares, infantilizing them or using ableist language, and in doing so, inadvertently propagating stigma.
It’s crucial that we keep in mind the fact that neurodivergent people are not “abnormal”; their disorder doesn’t change the fact that they deserve to be treated the way any other neurotypical person would be treated. Although the government has tried to establish more infrastructure and services to accommodate disabled people over the recent years, there is still a discernable stigma surrounding people with disabilities, particularly those that aren’t visible. And this is when it becomes our responsibility, as members of the society, to accept and at least make an effort to understand neurodivergent people and their needs regardless of their differences.
Neurotypical privilege: http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/01/neurotypical-privilege/
Person-first or Identity-first?: https://themighty.com/2015/08/should-you-use-person-first-or-identity-first-language2/
People with mental illnesses
People with mental illnesses are another group deeply affected by social stigma in Singapore. The Singapore Mental Health Study (SMHS) conducted in 2010 found that about 1 in 10 people in Singapore suffer from a mental illness, which is why it’s essential that we increase our awareness about mental illnesses to help people with mental illnesses fight social stigma and seek professional help earlier.
SMHS also found that the four most common mental illnesses in Singapore are Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Alcohol Abuse, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Bipolar Disorder.
General descriptions of the aforementioned mental illnesses:
MDD is characterised by a profound feeling of sadness, emptiness, worthlessness and hopelessness. Associated with this, is a range of other disturbances like loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, loss of energy, tiredness, etc. SMHS found that about 5.8% of the adult population in Singapore suffers from MDD – affecting over 160 000 adults.
Alcohol Abuse, according to the Institute of Mental Health, is diagnosed when one or more of the following occurs: (1) recurrent alcohol use resulting in failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home, (2) recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous and (3) continuing to use alcohol despite having persistent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by the effects of alcohol. 3.1% of Singapore’s population suffers from Alcohol Abuse, which has also led to Alcohol Dependence in which the affected individual displays various symptoms, such as distress or unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, when intake of alcohol is stopped or reduced.
OCD is characterized by recurrent and unwanted thoughts, images or urges (obsessions – such as, intrusive thoughts about being contaminated, persistent doubts about certain things, unwanted thoughts about harming loved ones, etc.) and/or repetitive behaviours (compulsions – such as, frequent hand washing, cleaning, counting, etc.) that cause anxiety. They perform these compulsions with the hope of preventing the obsessive thoughts, however, these compulsions only provide temporary relief, and not performing them increases their anxiety significantly. About 3% of our local population suffers from OCD.
Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) causes serious shifts in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior. Affected individuals experience periods of extremely euphoric, and hyperactive behavior (known as manic episodes) at one point in time, and sad, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes) at another point in time. During a manic episode, a person might impulsively quit a job, charge up huge amounts on credit cards, or feel rested after sleeping only two hours. During a depressive episode, the same person might be too tired to get out of bed, and full of self-loathing and hopelessness. About 1.2% of the adult population in Singapore suffers from bipolar disorder.
Stigma surrounding people with mental illnesses (TW: Ableism)
Like other disabled people, people with mental disorders experience ableism and social stigma. Due to this, many of those suffering from mental disorders feel ashamed or afraid to share their problem with others and may take many months, or even years, before seeking professional help, which results in the intensification of their illness. Other reasons for not seeking professional help include not being aware of the symptoms of the disorders or not knowing who to consult regarding the problem. SMHS found that the average time taken (also known as treatment gap) for individuals affected with the abovementioned mental disorders to seek help ranged from 4 to 13 years, and amongst all the affected individuals, only about 22% had actually consulted a psychiatrist, while others had consulted a general practitioner or a spiritual healer.
Many people have multiple misconceived perceptions about mental illnesses and are ignorant of the fact that these mental disorders and its effect on people are just as real as any other disability. In fact, according to an IMH study, 9 in 10 of those assessed believed that people with mental illnesses could get better if they wanted to, when in actual fact, affected individuals need medical treatment and other interventions to recover. So many people fail to realise that mental illnesses can be extremely fatal. Many a time, due to the society’s stigmatization of mental illnesses, those suffering from these illnesses also begin to internalise these false perceptions about their illness, which leads to other problems including poorer treatment outcomes, low self-esteem, widening of the treatment gap, etc.
Before we work towards eradicating stigma, it’s essential that we acquire a better understanding of mental illnesses and their symptoms, and acknowledge and recognize the fact that mental illnesses cannot be cured by simply telling the affected individual to “cheer up” or “de-stress” – affected individuals are not able to control the effect of the mental illness on them and their behaviour, and the illness is, very often, extremely detrimental to their health. It’s crucial that we educate ourselves about mental illnesses to enable ourselves to recognize it and help the affected individual consult the right healthcare professional for diagnosis and timely treatment.
It is also integral that as responsible members of our community, we avoid using terms like OCD and depression loosely with humorous intent. For instance, describing someone as OCD simply because they colour code all the applications on their phone is extremely thoughtless and irresponsible. OCD is a serious mental illness and should not be used as a tool to make jokes.
Myths & Facts
X There’s no hope for people with mental illnesses.
√ With treatment, people with mental illnesses can lead active and productive lives.
X People with mental illnesses are violent and unpredictable.
√ The vast majority of people with mental health conditions are no more violent than anyone else.
X Mental illness doesn’t affect me.
√ Mental illnesses are surprisingly common and can affect anyone.
X People with mental illnesses, even those who have recovered, tend to be second-rate workers.
√ Employers who have hired people with mental illnesses report good attendance, good work, as well as motivation.
X Mental illness is brought on by a weakness of character.
√ Mental illness is the product of the interaction of biological, psychological and social factors.
Ways to help manage mental illnesses
Seek professional help
There are many healthcare professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, etc.) who can help the affected individual in the treatment of their disorder. If you recognize symptoms of a mental disorder, and find that these symptoms are affecting an individual’s life significantly, do encourage them to seek advice and help from a healthcare professional.
This is a more intense method of counselling that helps individuals recognize, understand and come to terms with their mental condition. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approaches, in particular, can help treat mental disorders and are often used together with medications for holistic treatment of the disorder. The CBT techniques involve helping individuals overcome their feared situations while providing them with cognitive and behavioural strategies for reducing the effect of the mental disorder and preventing future relapse.
There are many medications available for the treatment of mental disorders. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are particularly useful in treating anxiety or depressive disorders and can help speed up the recovery process. Although these medications can help reduce the effect of the mental disorders, it is still crucial for the affected individual to go for psychotherapy at the same time to better help them with their recovery.
How can you help?
Besides educating yourself and raising awareness about mental illnesses, you can volunteer at places like the Institute of Mental Health where you can conduct social activities for the patients there or engage in rehabilitative activities with them – volunteer sessions are very, very important to these patients because they are, very often, the only time they get to interact with people from the outer world.
Institute of Mental Health (for psychiatric emergencies): 6389 2222
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) (for people in crisis, thinking or affected by suicide): 1800-221 4444
AWWA Centre for Caregivers (for caregivers of the disabled, and the mentally and chronically ill): 6511 5318
Singapore Association for Mental Health (for people with psychological, psychiatric or social problems): 1800-283 7019