A parent’s love knows no bounds. Lisa Chan, 23, can vouch for this more than most. She and her 59-year-old dad Chan Heng Kay have gone through a lot in the last couple of years. In 2021, Lisa, who was struggling with depression, sat on the edge of a high-rise building contemplating suicide.
Hours later that day, Heng Kay saw Lisa in the hospital, wondering what went wrong.
Two years on, both father and daughter are bravely opening up about their experience. Their family of five also includes Lisa’s mum and her two younger brothers aged 11 and 14.
Speaking to AsiaOne, Lisa and Heng Kay reminisce about her childhood days, rollerblading and cycling at the beach.
“She was very cute, I love her very much. Aiya I’m going to cry,” the dad of three says as his voice quivers.
He tries to control his tears but as Lisa continues to share her story with us, Heng Kay asks for a break to steady himself.
The pain at the thought of nearly losing his daughter two years ago still lingers.
Beyond the depressed individual
Lisa says that many people don’t know the difference between depression and sadness, and end up using these terms interchangeably.
This is potentially dangerous as depression is a medical condition that is “more than feeling sad”.
HealthHub describes depression as a condition that “commonly happens to individuals who find difficulty coping with certain life stressors”.
The marketing manager admits that she doesn’t know when her mental health started to deteriorate.
“I’m not very sure when this whole thing started, but the main factor would be toxic relationships,” Lisa tells us.
She was very emotional as she was seeking validation from her partners at the time. This, coupled with academic pressure, led to Lisa losing interest in school and even her hobbies.
“I felt very helpless and hopeless,” she shares.
While some may share their troubles with their loved ones, Lisa says: “I did not confide in my parents because I was afraid that they would not forgive me. I was just so afraid that people will not understand [my depression].
“I thought I was a burden to them.”
And if she felt uncomfortable opening up to her loved ones, what more a stranger? So, seeking professional help never really seemed like an option.
Thankfully, someone at school noticed her distress and intervened.
“My mentor and lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) were the ones who encouraged me to receive professional help,” Lisa says.
They also helped to break the news to her parents that their daughter was having mental health struggles, depression.
Before this, Heng Kay admits to being unaware of his daughter’s condition, saying that it was “impossible” to tell whether Lisa was grappling with depression.
Even before her suicide attempt, he didn’t notice anything that was different from her behaviour, he tells us.
That day in 2021
Lisa is calm throughout the interview. That is until she recalls the day she thought of taking her own life.
“Even today, it’s a very scary feeling [to remember],” she says, tearing up.
Standing atop the high-rise building, Lisa shares that she was overwhelmed with fear and remembered calling her close friends during that moment of darkness.
The thought of her family’s reaction to her death made Lisa take a step back from the ledge.
This crucial pause was enough time for her friends to call the police for help, who soon arrived at the scene and alerted Heng Kay to what was happening.
“When the police called me in the middle of the night, I couldn’t believe it,” he says.
His heart dropped as he was told to pick up Lisa from the Institute of Mental Health.
Upon their reunion, both were at a loss on what to do — Lisa had things to say but didn’t know how to word them while Heng Kay had questions but was afraid of upsetting his daughter. She leaned on his shoulder seeking comfort.
The silence was not born out of awkwardness, he tells us. His heart was simply aching from seeing Lisa in such a state.
“It was the first time that I noticed a change in my daughter’s eyes.”
To this day, Heng Kay still feels responsible for what happened to Lisa and says that he has “failed as a father”.
In spite of the self-blame, he makes a conscious effort to live life fully and be strong for his family.
“I am trying my best to be brave. I failed, but I must go on,” he says. “My children are still young. If I were to give up on life, then they will suffer.”
Journey to recovery, for all
Now, Lisa is in a better place mentally and she is aware of how much her parents have helped her in her recovery.
“As I grew up, I realise a parent’s love is very strong,” Lisa chokes up before trying to regain her composure.
This was echoed by Heng Kay who adds that “Whatever you do, I will forgive you. You can always try again.”
Right after the suicide attempt, she recalls how her dad and mum gave her the space she needed to recover — despite Lisa initially locking herself up in her room.
She also had support from close friends who checked in on her by calling her and sending her warm messages. These kind gestures reminded Lisa that she wasn’t battling her demons alone.
In the journey to understand herself better, Lisa says she now looks inwards using tools like yoga and meditation to calm down her “very loud” mind.
These are her coping mechanisms, she says.
Besides that, Lisa also makes it a point to do self-reflections regularly in order to identify the root of her problems and work on fixing them.
Having honest conversations with strangers seems to be doing her a world of good too.
From almost “wasting everything away”, Lisa, who is now working as a marketing manager, has since been invited as an alumna speaker at NP to share her career development experience.
Lisa also includes bits from her mental health journey to make these talks more valuable for the students, she says.
And on social media, she produces content in hopes of helping more children and young adults deal with their mental health battles like depression.
As for Heng Kay, he cherishes the fact that he feels closer to Lisa these days and wants to be a voice to help other youths and parents in similar situations.
“If you’ve done something wrong, be brave and talk to your parents,” he urges, “Everyone makes mistakes, learn from them and move on.”
When Lisa asks her dad if their relationship has strengthened in the last two years, he gives a wholehearted “yes”.
“Much better, you’re all grown up now,” he says.
Heng Kay’s advice to other parents is to never give up on their kids.
“If they are suicidal, shower more concern on them. You should show more care. You can’t go wrong with showing them more concern.”
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
- Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
- Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928