Depression gets heard in a new book My Voice: Overcoming—A Journey Of Hope.
Contributed By Theresa Tan
Depression is a tough illness to understand—and an even harder one to overcome.
A chronic disease of the mind and body, depression is not just a case of “the blues.” Sufferers describe it as an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, and symptoms include fatigue and low energy, a loss of interest in most activities, suicidal thoughts, significant weight gain or weight loss, sleeping a lot or being unable to sleep.
The suicides of famous depressives like Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, or poet Sylvia Plath, or Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung, have only further enhanced the “mystery” of clinical depression.
In Singapore, 5.6 percent of people suffer from depression, and in the world over 121 million people are affected by this mental illness. Yet, awareness of depression is still very low. But a recent book published is a good start to getting the word out—and greater understanding of depression.
Chua Seng Lee, who was Chairman of the National Youth Council Mentoring Steering Committee in 2009, has collected honest stories from people suffering from depression in his new book, My Voice: Overcoming—A Journey Of Hope. This is the third volume in the My Voice series, started by Elim Chew in 2004. Each of the My Voice books has served as a voice of an unheard sector of the community.
Sparked off by the shocking suicide of a young man he was mentoring, Chua embarked on a journey to explain what depression sounds and feels like. Among the people whose stories appear in this book are actress and entrepreneur Jacelyn Tay, who shares frankly about her rapid rise to success and just as precipitous fall after a business failure, radio personality Danny Yeo, who describes the harrowing feeling of being drowned by endless work with no hope in sight, and Jen Lee who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder due to sleep deprivation, which drove her to have hallucinations.
Chua’s journey took him not only to people who experienced depression, but to the ones who have made it their life’s work to help depressives. His interview with Professor Kua Ee Heok, senior consultant psychiatrist at National University Hospital is enjoyably enlightening, revealing that mental health can be managed if the patient can be convinced to tell stories—a good tip for those who have ageing grandfathers at home.
Information and advice from experts like Associate Professor Leslie Lim of Singapore General Hospital, and heads of bodies like the Institute of Mental Health and the Samaritans of Singapore come packaged in narrative format, making understanding the treatment and the problems of the illness an easy task. Many depressives fail to seek proper help and manage their illness because of the stigma attached to mental illness, but active efforts are being made to create greater and more grassroots public awareness in Singapore.
Chua’s book (with a foreword written by President SR Nathan) deals also with caring for caregivers—many end up suffering from depression after looking after a family member with depression. He writes about his personal experience of grieving and finding closure after the death of his friend.
At the tail end of the book is a series of beautiful artworks by young people, much in the style of Chew’s My Voice series. Chua has very thoughtfully also included an index of helplines for people seeking help for depression.
All in, Overcoming is a fairly comprehensive layman’s guide to depression, covering what to look out for, how to deal with it, and where to get help, a sure step in the right direction for helping sufferers and lowering suicide rates.
My Voice: Overcoming—A Journey Of Hope (Write Editions, S$20) is available at all major bookstores.