Zalifah first discovered that mental health could have a devastating impact on her one fateful day when she was in her early twenties. Someone close to her attempted suicide, out of the blue. Since there had been no warning signs, Zalifah was completely shocked to hear the news. However, she did not have time to react properly. Zalifah’s sister was scheduled for an induced labour the very next day, so Zalifah went from panic and concern one moment to celebrating the birth of the newest member of her family the next. Due to the flurry of activity, she never had the chance to properly talk about the attempted suicide or to help address the root causes that led to it.
In those early years, Zalifah lacked understanding about mental health. She came to the conclusion that the incident was probably one-off, and treated it as a taboo topic. When her loved one was unable to handle stress and quit one job after another, Zalifah thought the reason must be laziness. To her, every job would have some level of stress, and it was not reasonable to keep moving between jobs. Without proper understanding or empathy, it was not long before a massive breakdown occurred again, causing Zalifah to rethink her attitude towards her loved one.
Following this ‘wake-up call’ from dealing with the breakdown, a major turning point in Zalifah’s attitude towards mental health came from reading an article by Mr Hsieh Fu Hua, dated 10 February 2016 (read here). In the article, Mr Hsieh described his experience going from being uninformed about mental health to becoming a mental health advocate. It struck Zalifah that if even a high-flying personality could be so candid and open about his personal experiences facing stigma first-hand and dealing with depression, she should not hesitate in getting help for herself in order to help her loved one in turn. She realised she had nothing to lose in taking the first step.
Motivated to do more after reading the article, Zalifah made the decision to call Caregivers Alliance and joined a C2C class held at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2016. Through what she learned at the class, she realised she was able to connect with her loved one better. Looking back, she also understood how extending a helping hand earlier could have made a big difference. What she learned about mental health allowed her to help more than one person: she found that she was able to relate to her friends struggling with depression and to encourage them to a certain extent as well.
The C2C course started Zalifah on her way to being much more empathetic and supportive of those around her with mental health issues. Since she found satisfaction in being able to help others in need, she soon became an active volunteer with CAL. While she was primarily a volunteer Support Leader at C2C classes, she also helped in many activities such as by being an usher or doing registration. In 2019 alone, she volunteered at the Bloom partnership launch with Chinatown Heritage Centre, an outreach activity at Church of Our Saviour, Caregivers Connect 2019, and even performed at the play ‘La Mariposa Borracha’ to spread the message about caregiving after being put in touch with Creatives Inspirit (a creative arts company) at one of CAL’s engagement activities for caregivers.
Zalifah’s story is one of being empowered. From misunderstanding her loved one and being unequipped to help, she is now a mental health advocate who has been able to impact many other lives. Aside from CAL, she volunteers with other charities as well, in areas such as working with children and youths. She is currently also supporting a patient with terminal illness. To her, volunteering is something to do to improve herself, but it has become a form of self-care as well. Since some of the activities she took part in are aligned with her interests, such as dance and culture, she was able to volunteer her time while doing things she likes. Hence, her advice to others to that volunteering need not be a chore, because one can make use of skills and interests even while helping others in need.
The most beneficial thing about volunteering is that it has been an invaluable chance for Zalifah to learn from others’ experiences. She became less judgemental, more understanding, more empathetic and more patient, especially to those in need. She is especially perceptive to others who are perceived ‘differently’, be it from a mental health issue or some other reason. As a result, she learned not to take what she has in life for granted, and instead counts her blessings.
An important quote to Zalifah is that “the secret to happiness is helping others”. When she helps others, she gains satisfaction and happiness, knowing that she has made a difference in someone else’s life. Although her action sometime might just be a small gesture, it matters to her to have been able to be there for another person, especially in their times of need.
Story and photo courtesy of Zalifah (story edited).