When she was in Grade 9, she cried every night, but no one knew about it then.
In 2017, Mr. Gabriel Chan started noticing his youngest daughter, Kristyn, becoming more withdrawn. He and his spouse could not comprehend why, and it became increasingly difficult for them to connect with her. Panic started to set in when her sports coaches informed them that she had cut herself.
Unsure of what first step to take, they brought her in for therapy. Numerous nights were also spent discussing ways to understand their daughter better and how they could seek help. But they were not able to engage her effectively, leaving them more frustrated than before.
To better care for Kristyn, Gabriel switched to doing consultancy work in July 2019. Prior to that, both he and his spouse worked full-time.
“It was really hard to juggle the busyness of the corporate world and to then come home to see your daughter feeling so low without knowing how to help her,” he explained. The flexible work arrangement allowed him to spend more time with Kristyn during car rides to school and to her therapist. With less stress and more time spent together, he noticed that it became easier for him to communicate and connect with her.
After reading an article about Mr. Hsieh Fu Hua’s caregiving journey, Gabriel contacted Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL). The first phone call with one of CAL’s staff touched him in a way that nobody had previously, he said.
“That was the first time that we felt that someone understood us,” he said, adding that the CAL staff demonstrated real empathy. It was then that he realised that caregivers also needed support and there are people who can help not just the loved one, but also the caregiver.
In September 2019, Gabriel started attending CAL’s 12-week Caregivers-to-Caregivers Training Programme (C2C) at the Singapore General Hospital.
Mental illness is highly stigmatised, and people seldom engage in discussion, he said. He believes it is important that people acknowledge and are aware of how they can help their loved ones recover. As such, he is appreciative of the sharing sessions during CAL’s C2C programme, where he spoke openly about his fears and frustrations, and heard others’ experiences.
Gabriel was not the only one who benefited from these sharings, his daughter did so too. Sharing others’ stories with Kristyn allowed her to feel “more confident and less isolated” as she realised that neither she nor her father was alone in their journeys.
After joining the C2C programme, he also became calmer and understanding, Kristyn said.
In the past, when he came home from work, he would sometimes see his daughter curling up in bed. Despite his many calls, she would not leave her room. He would respond with remarks like “Why don’t you think positive thoughts?” and “Why don’t you just snap out of it?”. His last resort was to slam the door.
Now, he has learnt to be patient and to give his daughter time and space. Whenever his daughter feels down, Gabriel would get her a bouquet of red roses. “It makes me feel loved because it shows that he knows that whatever he says won’t make me feel better,” Kristyn said, “but he goes out of his way to find alternatives to brighten up my day.”
In April 2020, Kristyn overdosed on prescription drugs. It was difficult for the family, Gabriel said. As she sought treatment, the rest of the family were in trauma. But through it all, the family rallied behind and supported Kristyn in her recovery journey. His eldest son would accompany her to sleep at night, the youngest one is her confidante and his eldest daughter would go out with her.
During the past four years, Gabriel drew his strength from his family and his faith. He continues to do so as their father-daughter relationship grew stronger. “I can finally say that I have someone whom I can fall back on and who is always there for me,” Kristyn said.
To other parents who are caregivers to their children, Gabriel hopes they know not to be afraid. “There is nothing to be shy or fearful about,” he said. “Fear is only natural, but they should not run away from it.” He also encourages these parents to speak openly with and learn from those who have had similar experiences.
Another message he hopes to send is that mental health conditions are treatable. It may take six months or six years, but time is not a factor as long as you love the person, he said.
“It is the deep love that we have for our daughter,” he added. “It is so critical to let her know that the love will never change despite what she is going through.”
Today, Kristyn is managing better than before, attributing it to her therapist, psychiatrist and her family’s support. Both she and Gabriel have also started to share their stories with others (Compassion Fatigue: A mental health caregiver's story; Mental Health Awareness #shareyourstory_). They hope to spark conversations about mental health and champion for greater support for persons with mental health issues to recover.
Gabriel also continues to gain strength from the community of caregivers he met through C2C. To this day, his class of caregivers is still supporting one another on their caregiving journeys.
● If you are a caregiver or know of a caregiver, learn more about our C2C programme here: https://www.cal.org.sg/c2c
● If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the following helplines:
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389 2222
● To watch the videos Gabriel and Kristyn are featured in,