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Confessing Mental Health Struggles With Family

With more conversations about mental health being encouraged today, many youth find it easier to open up about their struggles. Despite that, confessing mental health struggles to your family, in particular your parents, still remains a great difficulty. After all, how do you tell someone who has seen you grow up your whole life that you’re not okay?

We spoke to five Singaporeans who shared with us their journey of confessing their mental health struggles with their family and what their parents did to help. From encouraging them with meal reminders to paying for psychiatrist appointments, these heartwarming stories show us that there’s no harm in seeking help from loved ones.

1. “I struggled with eating and my dad would always get lunch for me after school”

Cherrell and her family
Image courtesy of Cherrell 

“I was 16 when I discovered I was struggling with anxiety and depression. At the point of discovery, I did not take action because I didn’t care about myself enough to seek help. 

After a year or so, a friend encouraged me to see the school counsellor. At first, my parents couldn’t seem to understand why I was struggling and thought that I was already having an “easier” life as compared to them when they were younger. They also thought seeking help from a mental health professional is only for those who are “crazy”.

It was difficult to confess to them because I wasn’t sure if they’d believe me. I was also worried that they would undermine my experience. Being diagnosed by a psychiatrist helped concretise my experience, and through her we discussed some of my struggles.

Since then, they have been so supportive — the best I could ask for. The thing about depression is that even the simplest tasks can feel so difficult. I remember how much I struggled with eating and my dad would always get lunch for me after school. Most importantly, I am so privileged to have been supported financially by my parents to seek professional help.

When they offered to help me, I felt like I wasn’t alone and began to feel hopeful again. My family started to communicate more and express our love for each other more openly as well. I realised that I need to recognise their willingness and efforts made at listening and holding space, even if they can’t understand what I’m going through.”

Tips for those who are struggling to confess their mental health struggles: “Take baby steps. You might feel more comfortable speaking about it with a friend, teacher, or even a sibling first, and that’s also a win.”

— Cherrell, 23

2. “My parents brought up conversations of their friend’s children experiencing something similar”

Confessing Mental Health IssuesImage courtesy of Leonard

“I initially felt a lot of anxiety at the age of 18, but would casually brush it off as overthinking. After entering the army, I started getting full-blown panic attacks. I was then officially diagnosed with clinical depression and severe panic disorders.

I felt like I was useless and couldn’t bring myself to feel confident with things that I used to do before, like meeting people and just being myself. It came to a breaking point where my attacks would get so severe that I felt physical pain. I sought out a private psychiatrist to get help. 

I didn’t exactly confess to my parents about my struggles because I felt like they already had a lot on their plate and I didn’t want to be an extra burden. But they naturally discovered it and tried to get me to confess indirectly, such as bringing up conversations of their friend’s children experiencing something similar to what I did.

My parents supported me financially whenever I told them I would visit the psychiatrist. They also told me that things will start looking better in days to come. It really meant a lot to me then, especially since we were all struggling during that period as my grandmother had just passed on.

It definitely took time to be closer to my parents. I started sharing what I felt when initially I was just struggling on my own. Now we’re much closer in understanding each other.”

Tips for those who are struggling to confess their mental health struggles: “You can check out Life&Lemonade, an organisation for those who need financial support for mental health. They operate on a “pay as you wish” system.”

— Leonard, 26 

3. “My dad would send me self-help videos about mental health”

“I was about 17 years old when my mental health struggles hit me the hardest. I was mostly struggling with anxiety and having bouts of extreme sadness or anger. 

I had a bad emotional breakdown one day while studying. Following that, I started to get more uncomfortable being in social situations, feeling too anxious to be alone in public spaces and having constant breakdowns. 

I spoke to my friends who happened to witness one of my breakdowns and also went to see a counsellor later on. One day, I was having a bad day and my mother sensed it, so she asked how I was. At first, I just told her I was stressed about school, but I think she felt that there was something else that was bothering me. 

Over the week, she kept checking up on me, and it made me feel comfortable enough to tell her everything as I knew I could trust her. I am pretty close to my parents and their immediate response was to listen to what I had to say and ask me what I wanted to do about it. Following that, they gave me advice and offered ideas on how I could deal with my anxiety. 

My dad would also send me self-help videos about mental health. It was cute and made me more comfortable with accepting that I was going through something that needed to be faced. 

I’m also the oldest child in my family and the idea of being like a “problem” instead of a reliable big sister was tough. 

My parents are pretty big on mental wellness because they too have had their own struggles. After telling them, struggles related to my mental health felt like they can be solved rather than simply brushing them away. They care for me, and that alone is enough.” 

Tips for those who are struggling to confess their mental health struggles: “Your parents care about you and want to see you happy and healthy. They might not respond the way you expect, but remind yourself that they are human too. Tell them without expectations.”

— Lana, 22

4. “Every time I visit the doctor, my parents will check in to understand my condition”

Jia Yi and her family
Image courtesy of Jia Yi

“I was 20 years old when I had insomnia, which led to me seeing a psychiatrist and being diagnosed with recurrent Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. During poly, I only slept 3 to 4 times a week and my mood was always low. I felt sad and hopeless all the time.

 I went to see multiple counsellors behind my family’s back via SOS, AWARE and Family Service Centres when I was 18 to 20 years old. My parents kind of knew I was struggling with my mental health when I started poly, but didn’t know much as I didn’t want to talk to them about it. 

The breaking point came in 2020 when I was hospitalised for stomach flu and had a panic attack at the hospital. The nurses called my parents and that’s when they discovered how bad it was. 

After that incident, my parents tried to talk to me about it but I was very hesitant to tell them that I was “sick”. It’s not like the common flu that I can recover in a week, but more of a lifelong journey of fighting these struggles. 

They reassured me that it was okay and offered to pay for my psychiatrist visits and medication, ensuring that I wouldn’t be stressed by the cost. Every time I visit the doctor, my parents will check in on how the session went and the medication I was prescribed, making sure that they understand my condition and the progress. I feel safe at home.

Till today, I am still struggling to come to terms with my mental health struggles, but at least I don’t have to hide myself anymore. While my parents may still have misconceptions about my condition, we can openly discuss them now.”

Tips for those who are struggling to confess their mental health struggles: “Don’t bear all your negative emotions alone. Often, we are afraid that our family members may think of us differently if we let them know about our mental health, but remember that your family would go through the good and bad with you.”

— Jia Yi, 27

5. “I have more open conversations with my parents, including about our experiences and boundaries”

Confessing Mental Health IssuesNava and her mother
Image courtesy of Nava

“I started having symptoms of my mental health struggles at around 6 or 7 years old, but only acknowledged what I was experiencing when I was in secondary school. I was later diagnosed with depression and anxiety by a counsellor in my early 20s. 

When I was finally able to put a name to my symptoms, it was a lot of relief because I could better recognise what I was experiencing. I hyperventilated in primary school a number of times and collapsed on more than one occasion. No one told me what I was experiencing and skirted around these terms. 

Growing up, my parents had very little emotional bandwidth to care for such things. They have experience with mental health disorders in their families and in some way, they did not want to acknowledge that their kid may have inherited some of these disorders.

I first verbalised having depression over a conversation with my mum while I was in Junior College. At the time, she was dismissive and made me feel like my struggles were not acknowledged. It took us a number of years before we were able to get back to that conversation and have a proper chat around support needed. 

In my early university years, my mum paid for my therapy sessions and I was finally able to get professional help. Going for sessions also meant we had more conversations around mental health. I have not been depressed nor had a panic or anxiety attack in the last 5 years.

I have been able to have more open conversations around mental health with my parents, including about our experiences and boundaries, as well as the need to advocate for it so that more people can get the support they need. My dad never fully acknowledged all of my experiences, but he has come a long way in still holding space.” 

Tips for those who are struggling to confess their mental health struggles:Try to have this conversation in a neutral environment and meet people where they are in terms of their understanding of mental health. When people find it difficult to have these conversations, it more often has more to do with them than you.”

— Nava, 29

Discover A Heartfelt Family Drama About Love, Life & Letting Go With The Almighty Sometimes

Despite the generation gap we have with our parents, these stories have shown us that above all else, love remains. Sometimes, opening up about our feelings and finding a common understanding with each other can go a long way to build strong relationships with our family. 

If you’re interested in hearing more stories on mental health and familial relationships, Singapore Repertory Theatre is introducing a heartfelt play titled The Almighty Sometimes. The play features a protagonist named Anna, who has been on medication for her mental health struggles for so long that she can’t remember who she is without it. 

Now 21, Anna wants to find out who she really is without her pills and prescriptions. However, her mother is determined to protect her — which takes audiences through a journey on mental illness, difficult choices parents have to make for their children, and letting go. 

Confessing Mental Health IssuesSource

Kendall Feaver’s play The Almighty Sometimes highlights the complexity of diagnosis and battling mental illnesses, especially for the younger generation. The show premieres at KC Arts Centre from 8 November 2022 at 8pm from Mondays to Fridays, and 3pm and 8pm on Saturdays.

Tickets start from $50, and audiences can get 15% off with a minimum purchase of 4 tickets by opting for the 15% Watch With Friends package. This promotion is ongoing until the end of the show’s run, so jio your BFFs and head over to Singapore Repertory Theatre’s website to book your tickets for an emotional and exhilarating experience together.

Find out more about The Almighty Sometimes here!

Cover images courtesy of interviewees.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
This post is brought to you by Singapore Repertory Theatre.