Alex and Yoke Choo's Story

Parents caring for their 17-year-old son diagnosed with anxiety disorder and selective mutism*


2021 was a tough year for Brandon*. Still grieving from the passing of his beloved grandmother, he received the devastating news that his best friend had been killed in an accident. He started refusing to go to school and locked himself in the bathroom on several occasions. He became withdrawn, losing motivation to do anything at all, which left his parents at a loss.


They were concerned – about his state of mind, and also about him falling behind in school. They brought him to see several psychologists and finally a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with anxiety disorder and selective mutism.


“There is of course societal pressure for Brandon to keep up with his studies, and initially that was my concern. But I quickly learnt that we can’t set a timeline for him. As people who care for him, we have to accept that he will go at his own pace. We just need to be there, and walk beside him at whatever pace he goes at,” said Brandon’s mother Yoke Choo.


Selective mutism is a form of anxiety disorder where children or adolescents fear and are unable to speak in specific social settings, such as at school or in public areas despite being able to speak in other settings, such as at home when the child is relaxed. This often affects their academic performance and social relationships with people outside of the home environment.**


Yoke Choo made the decision to resign from her job as a Director in an IT organisation to care for him, but is quick to clarify that caring for Brandon is something shared equally by both parents.


“We play very different roles. I take care of all the practical things – doctor’s visits, caring for his physical needs and so on, but Alex is the one who goes and speaks with him when we need to calm him down, or persuade him to do certain things, the one Brandon talks to when he’s having a bad day.”


It was tough on the couple, as they had little knowledge about mental illness. At first they kept things to themselves, not knowing what others might think, but when Brandon refused treatment, in frustration Yoke Choo decided to talk openly about it with some friends.


“What I revealed was received with nothing but kindness,” she recalls. “And I started to think: Mental illness is an illness of the brain, just like any other illness, so why shouldn’t we talk about it?”


Alex had a similarly positive experience. “I told my colleague what we were dealing with, and to my surprise, he also disclosed that he had a child with anxiety issues,” he recalls.


In March this year, the couple learnt about CAL’s C2C programme and decided to attend together.


“It was so useful,” said Yoke Choo. “C2C taught us how to deal with his outbursts, and importantly how to self-care, something I tend to forget, especially when Brandon’s not doing too well.”


“I have learnt to check in with myself,” she says, “to make sure that I don’t end up falling into depression.”


Alex agreed, “When there are good days, we are filled with hope. Then a bad day comes, and we have to deal with the disappointment. Recovery is not linear, there are ups and downs. But CAL has given us the practical knowledge and support to better handle each day as it comes.”


*name changed

** Source: www.nuh.com.sg