As with many Singaporean youths his age, 19-year-old Redditor User_terminal is serving his National Service (NS).

Unlike most of his platoon mates, however, User_terminal has been struggling with anxiety issues. He has seen a psychiatrist and spoke to his platoon commander about his mental health.

They agreed to continue with basic training as his symptoms had been in remission. But when he felt some anxiety return, he went to see the camp’s medical officer about it.

In a post published last week, he shared his experience on serving NS while dealing with a mental health condition.

Platoon mates couldn’t empathise

“Most people weren’t hostile to me, they just didn’t understand,” wrote User_terminal.

After his visit to the medical centre, his platoon mates told him that they didn’t know he had this problem as he “looked fine”.

Although User_terminal didn’t receive any verbal abuse from those in his platoon, some didn’t know how to react upon finding out about his condition and he said that some interacted with him less than before.

He shared: “[They] may have some preconceived mindset of people with mental health conditions being ‘violent, unpredictable and dangerous’.”

Though he doesn’t blame them, calling them “great people with whom I shared great memories with”, he hopes that he can change their perception of mental health sufferers through his kind actions.

Family advised Redditor not to report mental condition

Another challenge that User_terminal had to deal with was family members’ advice not to report his condition. They were concerned that this would go down on record and affect his career prospects later. This, he said, made him feel that they did not see his mental health issues as real or as damaging as a physical condition.

“Those who have suffered from mental health issues know how awful the experience can be during the darkest moments,” he added.

Looked down on because of anxiety issues

Another challenge was having to deal with the stereotypes of toxic masculinity.

User_terminal wrote: “Some of the sirs and sergeants, who have this mentality that being a ‘man’ means having big muscles and being aggressive and brave. To them, having anxiety issues is a weakness.”

In response, he quoted a character from his favourite anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion: “If you know pain and hardship, it’s easier to be kind to others.”

Learn how to be kind to others during NS in SG
Image source: Facebook / MOON 月相 PHASE

“For us who have struggled with mental health issues, we have developed a bravery and resilience of a different sort, and I would say, a better sort than the gung-ho heroism of some men. Because while we are resilient in the face of our own struggles, we learn how to be kind to others, as we know that a smiling face can hide many personal struggles and battles,” User_terminal added.

Positive response from Redditors

In his post, he acknowledged that there are some healthy people who claim mental health conditions to shirk on their responsibilities and admitted that he expected to get some backlash for sharing his story.

However, Redditors were more than encouraging in the comments, some even sharing similar experiences with mental health issues while serving NS.

Another who professed to be in the same boat as User_terminal shared a hopeful comment:
“I am PES E with some mental condition but I’m on a defence scholarship to work specifically in military technology… Having a good portfolio works wonders so do focus on that.”

Although User_terminal had initially written the post to encourage his peers in NS who may also be struggling with mental health conditions, the warm words of support and solidarity shows that there is kindness amid adversity.

WhimsyKalopsia wrote: “You are a man and a courageous man, at that; reject any suggestion otherwise. I’m a woman and did not go through your situation; I can only try to imagine the weight of NS on someone with anxiety or mental health struggles. I will say to you what I will say to anyone with anxiety struggles, myself included – that I really really really really really hope you (and we) overcome it someday. Thank you for your sharing. Rooting for you!”

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