Sunday, 26 February 2012

LIFE OVERSEAS : Be the master of your fate

WHAT connotations does the word “mental health” carry? Is mental illness and Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta your first thoughts‚ like mine?
Recently‚ my English teacher announced a public speaking competition organised by Mental Health Ireland. As I have never taken part in anything of the sort‚ I figured I would jump in at the deep end and take on the challenge. Initially‚ my aim was to speak confidently in public but I got more than I bargained for.
I made up a team of three with Sean Hayes and Claudia Kinahan‚ with substitutes Amy Beck and Ronia Murray. We chose a topic from a list provided by Mental Health Ireland. We gave our speech the heading‚ Awareness‚ Understanding and Acceptance - The Keys to Lifelong Mental Health.
Then‚ the workload piled up as research began. I realised that mental health and mental illnesses are completely opposite to each other. Mental health is your psychological and emotional well-being which enables you to use your cognitive capabilities. However‚ mental illness can be defined as experiencing severe and distressing psychological symptoms.
The research into mental illnesses such as depression‚ anxiety‚ obsessive compulsive disorder with their causes‚ symptoms and treatments taught me a lot. I realised the fragility of our mental health — mental illness can develop at any stage in our lives. Most people assume “that would never happen to me” until it slaps them in the face.
The team also looked into ways to better a speech such as adding humour and personal experiences. I do not have much of a talent in injecting humour into speeches. But‚ when it comes to personal experiences‚ I realised my own journey could be of aid to another.
Talking about depression seems to be taboo as it is a touchy and scary subject. But won't it result in a negative effect if everyone keeps his lips sealed and suppresses his emotions? Would it not be better to reveal your innermost feelings to a loved one‚ rather than bottle them up?
I remember the day one of my closest friends thanked me for saving his life. Little did I know that being Little Miss Agony Aunt made a difference. I was oblivious to the fact that he was suffering from depression and he contemplated suicide. So‚ if you had the notion that someone may be considering suicide as a tragic release‚ become his pillar of support.
After weeks of preparation, penning down my own trials and making cards to prompt the speech‚ we headed off to the county finals in County Clare. We emerged victorious which left me flabbergasted. I did not expect to win. All I had wanted to achieve was to deliver the speech fluently and confidently. Thankfully‚ our hard work had paid off. We then proceeded to compete in the South Western Regional Finals. Although we did not make it to the semi-finals, I felt that I had run an interesting and satisfying race indeed.
Not only had I done something I would not have dared to do previously but I had also gained so much knowledge on a topic which should be of more concern to the public. Schools could hold a day dedicated to emotional well-being and to educate students about it. We should appreciate our mental health and never take it for granted. Also‚ we should learn to nurture it. As William Ernest Henley aptly put it: “I am the master of my fate‚ I am the captain of my soul.”

The writer is studying at a high school in Ireland. She loves to try all things but is a Malaysian at heart.

Read more: LIFE OVERSEAS: Be the master of your fate - Sunday Life & Times - New Straits Times

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