Voices become deafening
For more than a year, he heard voices insulting, mocking and laughing at him.
They started out faint at first but got so loud he contemplated suicide.
It was only when he shared his condition with his family that they convinced him to get help.
One in 10 people in Singapore suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, said the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
A fortnight ago, Vietnamese national Ho Chieu, 25, fell to her death from the West Coast Highway viaduct near VivoCity.
The single mother had earlier told friends she had been hearing voices and was stressed about being her family's sole breadwinner.
IMH's Early Psychosis Intervention's deputy chief, Dr Sujatha Rao, told The New Paper that what Ms Ho had been experiencing was possibly the early signs of psychosis, a mental condition in which one loses touch with reality.
The good news is that it can be treated.
An IMH patient who wanted to be known as Joe, 29, was diagnosed with psychosis. He told TNP he began hearing voices in December 2008, four months after he enrolled at a local university.
He found himself the victim of gossip - a repeat of the harrowing experience he had during his polytechnic days. It made him conscious during lessons as he always felt as if his classmates were talking about him.
"During my polytechnic days, I was able to cope and bounce back. But I couldn't do so during university and developed anxiety issues," he said.
That was when he began to hear voices of his former National Service supervisor, classmates and strangers.
He would hear voices about three times a week, at first insulting and laughing at the things he did.
"I felt as if I was being watched and under surveillance," he said.
He also experienced physical sensations, such as mild electrical shocks running through his body and as though parts of his body was being pressed.
He added that he had to force himself to attend classes, where he had trouble concentrating, causing his grades to suffer.
Things got worse for Joe.
By 2010, the voices were deafening and an everyday occurrence.
"Every day, I found myself just looking forward to each meal and trying to get sleep in between. I couldn't even watch television and focus. I was like a zombie," he said.
He also said that leaving his home became a challenge as he would hear the voices and occasionally be in tears.
At one point, he contemplated suicide but said his faith kept him from harm.
In 2010, he finally confided in his family members and they suggested that he see a doctor.
But Joe did not do so immediately because he wanted to complete his examinations first.
It was only in November 2010, when his condition worsened, that his father called IMH's emergency services.
Joe was given medication and underwent counselling as he began treatment for his condition.
From there, he got better. The physical sensations in his body were less frequent and the voices got softer. In six months, almost all the symptoms disappeared, he said.
He added that support from his family and friends was vital to his recovery.
"My family believed in me and kept telling me that things would get better even when I no longer believed in myself.
"As for my close friends, they did not shun or stigmatise me and still treated me well."
Joe also played sports such as football with his friends on weekends in a bid to maintain a positive lifestyle.
Today, he is helping fellow patients on their social training programmes as a peer specialist.
His advice to those suffering from psychosis: "No matter how bad or hopeless things may seem, recovery is possible if you seek professional help.
"Such mental conditions can go away and it's possible to live your lives as you once did."
Every day, I found myself just looking forward to each meal and trying to get sleep in between. I couldn't even watch television and focus. I was like a zombie.
Many with mental illness too embarrassed to seek treatment deafening
Mental conditions such as psychosis are curable and the chances are even better with early treatment, said Institute of Mental Health (IMH) consultant Dr Sujatha Rao.
Dr Sujatha (below), who has been in the field for 14 years, said many people who suffer from mental illnesses do not realise the need for professional help or are too embarrassed to seek treatment.
In the event of a serious case or an emergency, sufferers can approach even general practitioners (GPs) for a first assessment. The GPs may then refer them to a specialist if necessary.
Dr Sujatha said early signs of psychosis - a condition that may be caused by mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder - include hearing voices and feeling overtly suspicious of your surroundings. If left untreated, it may lead to delusions, hallucinations and disorderly behaviour.
Psychosis may be triggered by stress from work, social problems and family issues, she said.
She added that most psychosis patients are in their late teens, an age when they undergo a lot of changes in their lives and are vulnerable to stress.
This is where family members and friends play a huge role in helping those suffering from mental illnesses or conditions, she said.
"For example, if they become isolated, do not do well in school, lose sleep or their appetite and are always suspicious of their surroundings, it may be good to check on them," she said.
She added that early treatment is crucial because studies have shown that it improves the outcome of the illness.
There are also many avenues for help in Singapore, such as IMH's Community Health Assessment Team (Chat), a drop-in centre at *Scape at Orchard Road.
"If you are not feeling well, talk to someone you can trust and who can help you. Don't wait until it's too late," she said.
IMH's Mobile Crisis Service
Samaritans of Singapore
Singapore Association for Mental Health
Silver Ribbon (Singapore)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin)
BY THE numbers
or 1 in 10 people in Singapore suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, the most common ones being major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder.