Faith, Graduate, Caregivers-to-Caregivers (C2C-PMHI) Programme
A mother openly shares her journey as a caregiver, and talks about what it means to never give up
Depression hit my daughter Stella (not her real name) in 2017, when she was in Primary 5. Back then, I was occupied with work – I went on business trips all the time and was rarely at home. I failed to notice that Stella was struggling with her mental health, believing that her low moods and anxious behaviour were part of a normal ‘emo teen’ phase. I told myself it was something she would eventually grow out of.
I was wrong.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, I was retrenched. I started spending more time with my family, and started to notice that things with Stella were not as normal as I thought. She constantly pushed me away, her temper was very bad, and worst of all, I found out that she was having suicidal thoughts. The turning point came for us when I broke down and cried. I told her, “Whatever you are going through, please let me help you.” Thankfully, she said yes, and we decided to seek help from the school counsellor.
Getting the Right Help was a Challenge
I was overjoyed when Stella finally opened up to me, but little did I know that the nightmare had just begun. Sessions with the school counsellor backfired. Stella was told that her only purpose as a student was to study, and was even asked to “snap out of it”. I watched in horror as my daughter spiralled into even deeper depression.
Stella was eventually referred to IMH REACH (Response, Early intervention and Assessment in Community mental Health). This was the best thing that the school counsellor did for my daughter. But even at IMH REACH, we had to switch therapists five times before we met one that Stella clicked well with! I was glad that we did not give up, and Stella is still seeing her today.
Still, the road ahead remained bumpy. No one warned us that things would get much, much worse before we even got a glimmer of hope.
All hell broke loose when Stella started taking the prescribed anti-depressants. The side effects caused her to experience increased suicidal thoughts and behaviour – she would take a knife wanting to stab herself, threaten to jump down flights of stairs, and was found tying a noose in a skipping rope. We eventually had no choice but to ward her at IMH.
By this time, I felt lost, exasperated, and burnt out.
Family Did Not Know How to Help
My family found it difficult to accept Stella’s condition. My husband had no knowledge of mental health issues, and could not wrap his head around what was happening with our daughter. He wanted to help, but had no clue how to.
My sister, on the other hand, believed that Stella was oppressed by demons. She brought Stella to church and asked us to put our trust in God, but this only caused Stella to turn away from religion.
Finally, my mom. She had her own set of superstitions, which led her to believe that we had to change Stella’s name, or adjust the fengshui of her room. She even suggested that we move house.
Without my family’s understanding and support, I had to take matters into my own hands.
Finding a Community of Care and Support
In a bid to help Stella and myself, I took up courses related to mental health, spent time on the internet reading articles and self-help resources. I found CAL, and registered for the Caregivers-to-Caregivers Training Programme (C2C) which equipped me with practical tips and skills to be a more effective caregiver. Above all, going through this 12-week course with other caregivers gave me the much-needed assurance that I am not alone.
Making Progress, Slowly but Surely
After IMH, we sought help from a private hospital and Stella has shown stark improvement. She is on prescribed medication, and still experiences suicidal thoughts from time to time, but now has more self-awareness than before. Most importantly, she wants to be well.
My family, including my younger daughter, has come to accept and understand Stella’s condition. As a mother, I would feel guilty about my younger daughter whenever I needed to focus my attention on Stella, but she has grown to understand that her ‘jie jie’ (older sister) has a condition, and that it is not her fault.
Of course, at times the family will still get a little impatient, asking, “When will she recover?” and I would have to manage their expectations that recovery doesn’t happen overnight.
I am in a way grateful that the pandemic and the recent River Valley High tragedy have shone the spotlight on issues that should have long been addressed. My hope is for schools to place more emphasis on students’ mental well-being, and school counsellors to be well-equipped to deal with mental health issues.
Finally, my advice to parents would be to spend quality time with their children. Looking back, I regret hustling so hard at work because it was at the expense of time with my daughters, and this is time that I cannot get back. I want to share my experience with the world and spread awareness, in the hope that others can learn from what I went through, and that more systemic support can be rendered to caregivers like myself.