Top image: Stephanie Lee / RICE File Photo
Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide
What would you tell yourself if you’re going through a tough time? And would you listen to what others have to say?
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and I find myself struggling to find the words to write about this pressing topic.
As someone in my mid-20s, it’s all too common to hear my peers trivialise their emotions by joking about “unaliving” themselves or having “menty Bs” (a mental breakdown). Actually sitting down and having a serious conversation about mental health is much tougher. Because we can struggle to find the words that speak the vulnerable truth about what we’re going through.
As much as we might be reluctant to admit it, many of us do struggle. And we need help.
According to the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), there were 476 suicide cases in Singapore in 2022. This number was the highest in 20 years, with an increase in suicides among youth aged 10 to 29 and the elderly.
Even more concerning: A “significant number” of those who committed suicide did not seek any assistance before the tragic events, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary mentioned in a Parliament sitting on August 3.
As much as we want to be there for the people around us, finding the right words can be tricky. I speak to several Singaporeans who’ve thought about suicide to find out what they would want to tell themselves back then.
Not Every Day is Perfect
25-year-old Sophia* tells me that at her lowest point, she felt unwanted and worthless in the eyes of others.
“Dear 18-year-old me,
Looking back, you’re one of the strongest people I know. Thank you for holding on.
I know it was tough. Your so-called ‘friends’ outcasting and spreading rumours about you, your ex-boyfriend wanting you for one thing, and a father who made you feel worthless. It wasn’t easy, but you got through it.
Always remember that even though your real friends were busy, they were always there for you–even now. You have a loving mother and sister that love you just the way you are.
And even when it feels like the world is against you, remember that you are strong enough.
Today, you are currently finishing up your degree. Who would’ve thought? And though not perfect, your relationship with your father is slowly improving.
Not every day is perfect. There are still days when you feel down, but they last shorter now. Always remember that the tough days are the ones that make you stronger. You are learning to love–not just the world, but most importantly yourself.”
All too often, we feel like nothing is going right in our lives. Sophia, too, has been there. But she says that it’s only after working through various traumatic experiences and looking back at them that she realised how strong she was.
I find myself trying to avoid cliches and platitudes when I speak to friends who are struggling, but perhaps sometimes the hope that things do get better eventually—such an overused phrase, I know—is invaluable.
To Love and Be Loved
The second letter is by 20-year-old Alex*, who never truly felt her mother’s love. She was expected to grow up at a young age; never experiencing what it meant to be a child. Even as a young adult, she’s still on the path to finding happiness.
“To ‘The Girl Who Didn’t Asked to be Born’,
The person who was supposed to care for and love you hits you instead, shouting, ‘I should’ve never given birth to you’. Your screams echo along the corridor for everyone to hear, yet no one can save you. I know the pain you felt; feeling invisible.
It’s not fair growing up when you had to be an adult at such a young age. Even though you were robbed of the normality of childhood happiness, it doesn’t mean that you are undeserving of it. It was not your fault. You deserve to be loved and to love.
At the end of the day, our happiness is something that we are still working on. One day we will be okay. And even when it seems like you’re alone, remember that there are people who genuinely care about you.
I know that deep down you still hope for a better life, but one day you’ll realise that while you may be broken, putting yourself back together isn’t an impossible thing to do.”
I’m struck by Alex’s strength. Like Sophia, she still has days that aren’t perfect, to say the least. But her commitment to recovering from a difficult childhood is nothing short of inspiring.
Mental Health is a Journey
It’s easy to call for the normalisation and destigmatisation of therapy, and of seeking professional help. But there are very real obstacles. Affordability is one concern. And some, like 24-year-old Arabella, don’t have it at the forefront of their minds when they’re going through a difficult time.
“To the eldest daughter,
The moment you graduated from ITE, life felt like it took a turn for the worse. From being a caretaker to your sick parents, working part-time, and taking on the role of a mother of the house, it was a lot to juggle for a 19-year-old.
I know that you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you made it through. You learned how to be patient, kinder, and more understanding to yourself. No matter how difficult the journey was, you did it.
Even though therapy wasn’t your first thought, it helps. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. And the days when you don’t feel like leaving the bed for therapy are the days that you need it most.
But always remember: therapy is not a quick solution, it’s part of a journey to getting better. The therapist can only do so much–they are there to support you, but the person doing the healing is you. We’ll get there soon.”
At this point, we all know that seeking help is important. And at least among my peers, there’s increasing awareness of mental health. But there are still many out there who feel they need to soldier on silently. Taking a mental health or wellness day is slowly becoming a thing, but it isn’t widespread yet.
The truth is, suicide ideation is a complex topic with no easy fix. Beyond systemic changes, what we can do for our fellow humans is to help each other through our struggles and slowly go through life, one day at a time.