First off, the facts: one in five young people may be suffering from a mental illness, while the number of teenagers who have called a suicide hotline has doubled in recent years. Yet despite the alarming increase in today’s youths experiencing such pressing concerns, there’s still a lack of discussion surrounding the topic of mental wellness.
In light of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, we hope to break the stigma of mental health – starting with you. Ahead, we share the stories of these inspiring millennials who braved the odds and emerged stronger than ever.
“Depression has many angles of attack. Some days it feels like a stifling boredom, other days an existential despair. In its harshest form it becomes a self-imposed exile on Life via suicide. I feel that therapy is very often a conflict between the values of the therapist and the client. There really are no ‘silver bullets’ to things, whether you look at philosophy, psychology or psychiatry. In fact, the many interconnecting and sometimes conflicting views provide great anxiety. Sometimes all we need is for someone to tell us, ‘You aren’t okay.’ And that’s okay.”
– Andrew Yuen, The Glitter Mask Project*
“I always wished that I could be like other people. I tend to compare, especially with my friends who have been working a few years at the same job. I can’t even stay at one myself for so long.
I don’t know how other people do it, but my situation is different so I can’t really compare. But there’s something that I always keep in my head and I got this from my psychiatrist who told me that, ‘You take a few steps forward, like five steps forward. Even if you fall back, like two or three steps, you’re still ahead’.”
– Nawira Baig Bte Israr Baig, The Glitter Mask Project*
“What I felt for a long while was that I hadn’t moved on from being an insecure teenager. Sometimes I really feel like I’m being immature and I’m always worried about making a fuss out of nothing. But I also realise that when you go through this, you are forced to examine yourself. You’re forced to face your fears, because that’s the only way you can really move on from this. And I know that I have grown up because I acknowledge that life is really short and struggles are not necessarily bad. You’re not a bad person because you’ve faced these difficulties and challenges.”
– Melissa Rachel Kwan, The Glitter Mask Project*
You were a person who constantly strived to be perfect. Failure wasn’t an option because there was only perfection. You just got out of a relationship, you’re not doing well in school, and your family was a mess. Sinking into a dark hole where your mind ran wild with negative thoughts, you thought about how you could end your life. Having been in and out of counselling, you always knew there was help out there but you just weren’t rational enough to take the first step. One fine day, you were walking home and a neighbour asked you how your day was. That changed everything. You’re getting the help you needed and I’m proud of you. You know you can’t be perfect, but you know you can be you.
I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder the day before my 22nd birthday. Like in Taylor Swift’s ‘22’, everything wasn’t alright – but it will be.”
– Lyn, Teenage reader
“Growing up, I’ve heard my fair share of offhanded comments people make about ‘being OCD’. They laugh at it like it’s no big deal, but what they don’t know is that it’s more than just a penchant for cleanliness.
Being diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since I was 13, I was neither the person who would wash their hands till it’s scrubbed red and raw; nor would I check the door exactly seven times before leaving the house. OCD creeps up on people in different ways, and for me: it’s walking on the streets as I fight the urge to turn back home and check whether the toilet lid is shut; it’s waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding as images keep replaying over and over again in my head; it’s deluding myself into thinking that I am a horrible person and I will never get better.
Four years later, I still have thoughts keeping me up at night, and I still worry about things I know will never happen. I’ve lost some battles, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop fighting. Some day, I hope to live a life where obsessions and compulsions no longer control me. What does it feel like? I don’t even remember. But till then, I’ll keep going. And I know you, reading this, can too.”
– Samantha Lai, Teenage reader
“I have Asperger Syndrome and a Sensory Disorder, but I found sanctuary through the process of creating art which allowed me to deal better with my emotions. In the world of art, there is no right and wrong. I can express myself boldly and freely in my artworks. It has taught the perfectionist in me to see things in different perspectives. I learned that I can be imperfect to be perfect. I hope that my piece will encourage everyone to understand that we’ve all made mistakes. Look up to the light that brings hope; it will lead us out of the darkness.”
– Seagate Lim, Hope, Little Artists’ 20th Anniversary LAUREATES Exhibition
“It’s been years since my first encounter with a psychiatrist, and so many things have changed. While I still have low days, I’ve learned to address my emotions and come out stronger. I am not confined by my illness, nor am I defined by it. Rather, I am in a period of growth, just like everyone else.
As I write this, I want to express my thoughts about mental health. Major Depression is a nasty illness and I wish no one has to go through it. My doctors tell me that while it is a very real illness, I can get well with their help. I’m on my way to getting better now that I have the support I need. I remind myself that relapses are not the end of the world.
This year, I started a project named REdisCOVER with my friends who are also conquering mental health issues. It’s a taboo topic in our society, but we hope to spark conversations about it so others in similar shoes won’t feel alone. I really hope other people facing the same challenges will find the strength to seek help, because they are deserving of all the love they can get.
I think the hardest part of recovery is that very few people truly understand what I am going through. It can be difficult to talk about any of my feelings with other people, because they just think I’m ‘crazy’. There has been such a stigma surrounding mental illness that we often feel like outcasts. But really, we are just like everyone else. The fact that I am about to cross the finish line for my A-level studies at MDIS proves that life goes on and that things will work out in the end!”
– Tricia Chua, Teenage reader
*A collaboration between UNSAID and Anya Likhitha
Have a story to share? Here are three youth platforms where you can speak your mind and be heard.
The Tapestry Project | www.thetapestryproject.sg
Having struggled with depression and anxiety since her formative years, freelance writer Nicole Kay founded The Tapestry Project in 2014 as a creative space where readers are able to share their stories and find help within the community. Her passion project has since taken off, garnering an outpour of thought-provoking entries through the years that shed light on the widely misunderstood topic of mental health. Today, Nicole is in the process of recovery. If you’re interested in writing for Tapestry, drop them a note at [email protected]
UNSAID | www.unsaid.sg
A student-led collective started by Timothy Seet and friends, UNSAID runs in a similar vein to The Tapestry Project – encouraging dialogue via the power of storytelling. Instead of restricting themselves to one singular theme, the UNSAID team aims to tackle a different issue every year, with mental health being the core focus for the whole of 2017. Beyond words, they also seek to raise awareness through a series of original plays such as How To Be Happy and How Did I Mess Up This Bad: An Analysis.
Human Library Singapore | www.humanlibrarysg.org
First launched in Denmark back in 2000, the concept of a Human Library has since gained traction around the world, with Singapore jumping onto the bandwagon. The idea is ingenious: readers will be able to ‘loan’ a Human Book, in which real people share their stories in an intimate reading session. Recently, PsychKick co-founder Shafiqah came onboard to share her experience battling depression and suicide. Through this initiative, Human Library SG hopes to challenge the stereotypes surrounding mental health and other issues.
This article was adapted from the October 2017 issue of Teenage. Featured image: UNSAID