Singer Ferlyn Wong turns depression into inspiration for film
Singer Ferlyn Wong makes short film about illness after suffering from it
Local singer Ferlyn Wong struggled for years to come to terms with the fact that she had depression.
All the raw emotions the 24-year-old experienced will be reflected in a 10-minute short film.
Titled Left Behind, it was produced by her independent record label GIF Music, with support from the Institute of Mental Health.
Wong is best known as a former member of K-pop girl group SKarf, which has been inactive since 2013.
NOW & THEN: Ferlyn Wong in her short film Left Behind and in K-pop group Skarf in 2012 (above, far right).
According to Wong, it was a no-brainer that her company, which she co-founded in November with two partners, would focus on depression for its first corporate social responsibility video project.
"Depression is a topic I can relate to as I suffered two bouts in real life," she told The New Paper in a phone interview last week.
"I think there is a kind of stigma in showbiz. It's, like, if you're an entertainer, you're supposed to be a role model and be happy all the time.
"But entertainers are human beings too. By doing the short film, I want to tell people that it's okay to admit to having depression and to stand up and seek help."
In Left Behind, which will be available on GIF Music's YouTube channel next month, Wong plays a college student who crumbles under the constant pressure to succeed.
She will also be seen playing a supporting villainous role in the local cosplay-themed movie Young & Fabulous, which opens here today.
Wong suffered her first bout of depression in 2012, the year SKarf, which included another Singaporean, Natasha Low, debuted in South Korea.
She recalled: "The lifestyle there was overwhelming and I took diet pills to lose weight. (But they) had side effects. After taking them, I had severe mood swings. One moment, I'd be happy and the next, I'd be crying for no reason.
"I started seeing things too, and I'd have suicidal thoughts every other day."
She added: "Back then, I wasn't even aware of the changes in my emotional state. It was my (fellow SKarf) members who told me that for four months, I was 'crazy and scary'."
SKarf's South Korean member JooA, 26,told TNP over e-mail: "After taking the pills for a prolonged period of time, Ferlyn started hallucinating.
"She would clean a spot on the wall continuously, insisting that it was very dirty when it was not.
"Also, she believed that drinking water made her fat. To see her suffering, it pained my heart."
Wong said her second wave of depression, which happened in February, was brought on by "the accumulation of stress and the betrayal of a good friend".
"I had insomnia and didn't sleep for consecutive nights. And I couldn't eat and had to force myself to eat a few mouthfuls of food a day," she said.
Her manager, Ms Ice Poh, said Wong "looked like the walking dead" then.
Wong was candid when asked what she thought was the root cause of her depression, saying: "Fear of failure, insecurities, the constant feeling of not being good enough, and that whatever I do will never be enough. The lack of confidence in my self-worth."
Acknowledging depression was the first step of Wong's recovery.
Seeking clinical treatment was the second step and Wong admitted she was initially unreceptive to professional help.
"In the beginning, I didn't want to seek (it) as I was embarrassed by myself for being so weak as a person," she said.
"I don't feel comfortable opening up to strangers. A part of me feared that they might leak information and that people might start spreading rumours about me without understanding the whole situation."
During Wong's second bout of depression, Ms Poh said Wong wanted only to stay in her room and it was with "much persuasion" that she slowly agreed to face her issues.
Wong said: "I hated myself for feeling that my life was meaningless, and that I wasn't deserving of any good things.
"I could hear people trying to help me, but it just couldn't register until I met a friend's friend, who had a worse experience.
"She shared her (recovery) journey with me and from that point on, I started to be more receptive to external help."
Wong has also been receiving weekly counselling at her church for about a month.
Ms Poh said: "Things are looking up. She is sleeping normally and she has regained her appetite."
Wong is "determined" to make her second bout of depression her last.
"The counselling sessions have been really helpful. I've come to recognise my self-worth and to accept the past, be it good or bad experiences, and using my experiences to help others," she said.
While her short film is fictional, it does parallel Wong's real life - the ending of Left Behind features Wong's character emerging from self-imposed isolation and finding the strength to tell a friend about her condition.
"I now believe that my life can be a testimony to others, to bring hope and positivity to society," said Wong.
One in 17 in Singapore have suffered from MDD, says IMH
Left Behind received support from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) as the institution is "supportive of initiatives by individuals or groups who are keen to promote awareness of mental health".
A spokesman for IMH told TNP: "We feel that more can be done to raise awareness and everyone can play a role.
"Hence, when (Wong's management) approached us for support, we were open to the idea of helping her where possible."
Although the cost of producing the short film was borne by GIF Music, IMH will "review the content" of the film.
If it is deemed suitable, IMH will share the video on the Facebook page of Chat (IMH's outreach service for young people), IMH's YouTube channel as well as the Mental Wellness microsite on IMH's website, said the spokesman.
IMH advises anyone with symptoms such as insomnia, severe mood swings, appetite loss, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts to "seek clinical assessment and help as soon as possible - either from their general practitioner, polyclinic doctor or directly from IMH if the symptoms are very severe".
Dr Mok Yee Ming, chief of general psychiatry and head of the mood disorders unit at IMH, told TNP that Wong's symptoms "may be part of the constellation of symptoms that a person with major depressive disorder (MDD) experiences".
He said: "MDD, depending on its severity, may be treated with therapy, medications, or a combination.
"One of the commonly used forms of therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy. This aims to help the patient identify core negative thoughts and beliefs which contribute to the depressed mood and seek to change them.
"Antidepressants are used to treat the depressive illness, although it may be augmented with medications to help sleep, anxiety and hallucinations if there are any."
According to Dr Mok, MDD has emerged as one of the top three most common disorders here.
Other disorders included were alcohol abuse, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
A 2010 study by IMH on the state of mental health in Singapore revealed that one in 17 people here has suffered from MDD at some time in their life.
On why some people resist seeking help for depression, Dr Mok said: "There are times when a person may not realise their symptoms or the impact of their symptoms on their daily lives and those around them.
"In these instances, it takes a friend, a loved one or a colleague to make the person aware of the need to seek treatment."
He added: "There is (also) a need for the patient to be open about what he or she is experiencing and troubling them. Treatment can then be appropriately given as the patient requires."
Sexy image is deliberate
Last month, Ferlyn Wong released a Mandarin pop single, Killer Boy, with promotional pictures of her in a blue midriff-baring tank top and tight black miniskirt.
By her standards, it was sexy.
She wore cutesy, girlish outfits as a member of SKarf while her solo material saw her in leather jackets and cool street-wear.
Wong, who composed the melody and lyrics of her latest song, said the newfound sexiness was "deliberate".
She told TNP: "For Killer Boy, I wanted a huge image change, as the song is about me (metaphorically) 'killing' my depression.
"I wanted to show that after overcoming an ordeal, I can emerge stronger and look more confident."
She added with a laugh: "However, you will not catch me wearing something like that when I'm outdoors."
Wong will be appearing on ensemble charity concert Alive Singapore 2016 on June 16 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, alongside other local pefromers such as Jeremy Monteiro, Mark Chan and MICappella.