Parents have tough role to help kids in mental anguish
Jennie's parents found out how they could help her only when they went to therapy together
She had been having suicidal thoughts daily up till January this year and actually attempted to take her own life twice.
Jennie (not her real name), 19, had to quit school on two occasions - first at a junior college and then a private international school - because of her deteriorating mental health.
The Singaporean's case is not unique.
According to 2019 statistics from the Samaritans of Singapore, suicide was the leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 29.
Diagnosed with depression, panic disorder, dysthymia (chronic depression) and borderline personality disorder, Jennie has successfully overcome the first two conditions, after undergoing therapy and receiving the support of her parents.
Getting her parents behind her was crucial, although Jennie initially felt overwhelmed by them. An only child, she was afraid to share her mental struggles with her father, an entrepreneur in his 50s, and mother, who is in her 40s and works as a relationship manager in a bank.
"I was scared they would not understand, and I did not want to disappoint them," she told The New Paper.
When Jennie suffered from two panic attacks last July, she decided to seek help and opened up to them.
She was met with unexpected anger from her father, who reacted defensively, thinking she was blaming him for her struggles.
Jennie's mother was more receptive and supportive, and actively scoured the Internet for psychotherapists to help her.
While Jennie's parents cared deeply for her, they then became too intimately involved in their attempt to help her and life became overwhelming.
"They micromanaged me, which caused me so much stress and worsened my mental health," she said.
Her therapist eventually invited Jennie's parents to family therapy and explained her diagnosis, linking the symptoms of the disorders to her behaviour.
Jennie then requested through her therapist that her parents be more considerate of her feelings and "not to walk on eggshells" around her.
"I hoped they would stop treating me like a patient and more like a daughter," Jennie said.
Today, the family never shies away from a conversation regarding Jennie's mental well-being.
Ms Elaine Lek, 57, whose 17-year-old son committed suicide in 2018, urged parents not to shun asking their children about their feelings and mental state.
She said of her son: "I wish he was more open about his pain. I would have wanted to understand the dark thoughts he was having."
Ms Lek co-founded the PleaseStay.Movement along with other suicide-bereaved mothers, and also started the Zen Dylan Koh Fund - which supports young people with mental health issues - in honour of her son.
"Many parents try to rationalise their children's mental health struggles, but they are not as obviously identifiable as physical illnesses," she said.
"The youth want their parents to listen and show empathy, not dismiss them or try to give them a solution."
After attending family therapy, Jennie's parents have become more knowledgeable of mental health issues. They have grown to be more sensitive with their actions and words and learnt to respect their daughter's space.
They are now even speaking to family members and friends about mental health.
Jennie, who is starting on a foundation programme at a private school in August, said: "I feel that they have grown with me. This whole experience has taught them how to care for a loved one who is struggling and be more understanding of others in a similar plight.
"I am thankful that I confided in them as it played a part in my family's growth."