She had attempted suicide: 'Now I stop others from ending their lives'
Every month last year, more than two young people, aged 10 to 19, killed themselves. This is the highest in that age group in the last 15 years. TNP speaks to a woman who attempted suicide and now champions living
About 15 years ago, Miss Serene Ho, 41, tried to end it all after going through a bad bout of depression.
Thankfully, someone was there to save her.
Now, the full-time Chinese tutor is on a mission to save others from doing the same.
"I want to get the message across that these feelings of depression and loss of confidence are temporary," says Miss Ho, who is a volunteer with suicide prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore (SOS).
Having read the news of the teen suicides in The New Paper last Sunday and reports of the debate on the topic in Parliament, Miss Ho decided to write to the media.
She talked about how she believes that the suicide law can deter survivors from trying to kill themselves again. (See report)
She also shared how her guilt and depression led her to try to take her own life.
Miss Ho suffers from brittle bone disease, in which a person has fragile bones that break easily.
The disease made it difficult for Miss Ho to live at home, so she spent most of her childhood at St. Andrew's Orthopaedic Hospital for Children.
Miss Ho, who is the youngest in a family of three girls and a boy, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "You can understand why I am not close to my siblings or my father.
"My mother, who took care of most of my needs, became my best friend and confidante."
Her mother's kidney cancer was kept from her and she found out only after her mother's death, when she was 19.
"She was in and out of the hospital, and I thought her illness was not serious. The day after I visited her, she died. To think that day, I didn't stay long and even went for a movie after that.
"I was wracked with guilt," she recalls.
A few years later, she tried to be a social worker with the National Council of Social Service but did not make it.
"I failed the probation period twice, and they had to let me go. I became depressed and lost my self-esteem," she says.
"My relationship with my family was breaking down, and I had nowhere to turn. That was when I thought life was not worth living and tried to end it all.
"I could not sleep at night, and I had no one to talk to, so I would call SOS every night and tell them my sob story.
"Even with my training in social work at university, I missed all the signs that I was suicidal," she adds.
She decided to take action.
"I had depression then. There was no more meaning to my life," she says.
She remembers rolling her wheelchair to the side of the road "somewhere in Tampines", waiting for traffic to build up so she could throw herself at oncoming cars.She waited for about half an hour for the right moment.
"I don't know why I picked that location then. There were hardly any cars," she says, laughing now.
Still determined to end her pain, Miss Ho returned to her flat, which she shared with her older brother, and downed half the bottle of pills prescribed by a psychiatrist for her depression.
She says: "Instead of killing me, the pills made me very sick. I vomited, and my stomach hurt so much that I sought help from my brother's girlfriend.
"The amazing thing was we went to Changi General Hospital by public bus."
There, she had her stomach pumped and was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for a few days.
Miss Ho says: "It was after I had been moved from the ICU to the general ward that police officers visited. They told me that attempting suicide is a crime. They were not stern. Instead they were gentle and encouraged me to seek counselling.
"The tears I saw in my family's eyes also showed me that killing myself may end my misery but would cause pain to (my) family and friends.
"That was when I realised that suicide is a selfish act. The determination had limited my ability to see the big picture. I would have ended my pain if I were to die, but my act would have (caused) pain to others."
Religion also played a part in her recovery. Her friend from university, Mrs Abigail Lim, 41, took her to church.
Mrs Lim says: "Not only did she come to terms with her mother's death then, she also accepted her physical condition and became more understanding."
Miss Ho now tutors primary school pupils and secondary school students in Chinese and volunteers at SOS on an ad hoc basis.
She shares her story with others at events, some of which are organised by SOS.
She was involved in its latest campaign to distribute black plasters as part of its World Suicide Prevention Week campaign to raise awareness of youth suicide.
She says: "I want young people to know that once when you can get over the bad times, then life is worth living. I am proof.
"I tried to kill myself once and I failed. Now I am here to stop others from attempting to end their lives."
If you have thoughts of ending your life or are in emotional distress, you can get help from:
Samaritans of Singapore (24-hour hotline)
Singapore Association for Mental Health
Care Corner Counselling Centre (in Mandarin)
Mental Health Helpline