Doreen Kho speaks out about her son’s depression and mental health that led to his suicide. She now heads the PleaseStay.Movement, which advocates support for youths at risk and suicide prevention
In conjunction with Suicide Prevention Week, mamas in Singapore share their thoughts and experiences on the topic of suicide in children. Doreen Kho co-founded the PleaseStay. Movement together with other mums in Singapore who have lost their children to suicide. Together, these mums are advocating for more support for children at risk of self-harm as well as a national strategy to prevent youth suicides.
I lost Evan, my firstborn when he was 11 years of age. He was born way earlier than he should have, and he left this world way earlier than we all wanted him to.
Evan was a premature baby. He entered this world at 27 weeks of gestation, more than three months early. The doctors and nurses at the NICU fought hard to keep him alive. Imaginably, we were paranoid about everything in his caregiving and we tried to protect him from any external harm, danger and illnesses. Whatever we thought could potentially pose a threat to his health and well-being, we protected him against. Little did I know that we would lose the battle against an invisible threat – depression.
Depression was something that ran in my family. I wasn’t spared from it either. Sharing the same disease made us soulmates. I understood why he did not like to participate in any activities, and he understood why I wasn’t the geared-up mom like some other moms were. We spent long hours talking or just cuddling watching TV together. His thoughts were deep, philosophical and insightful. He was like a little adult whom I could share everything with. But it is also my deepest regret that I did. Even though Evan was loving, empathetic and considerate, I sometimes forgot that the maturity he showed on the surface hid a young, innocent child who wasn’t ready for the worries of the world. He felt bad for everyone and took on the load of everything as much as he could.
Never would I have imagined that a boy as young as he was would suffer from depression, though I have seen the face of this evil in many of my family members. It was simply inconceivable that a young child could feel so much pain, especially when we were a close family. He shared his depression with me. His emptiness. He shared his loneliness at school because he was a lot more mature than his peers and couldn’t fit in to any cliques. Sadly, at the time, I was clueless as to how I could help him. So I frantically sought medical avenues. My biggest mistake was to start him on medications because I was so desperate to get him out of his pain. When he posed a question to the doctor, “Isn’t medication forced or false happiness?” I knew he consciously knew that the medicines weren’t helping him get to the root of his problem, and was only a symptomatic relief. Though he seemed to have gotten a little better after the first course of medications, he spiralled when he started on the second. That was when I lost him.
Looking back, if I had another chance to start over, what would I have done differently? I think the first thing would be to take note that a child’s coping mechanism is less effective compared to my own. I may have taken him off school, be with him 24/7, the list goes on. If only…
I was determined not to let his life end just like that. I wrote a post the day before his burial to talk about his depression and to bring awareness that even young children could have it. The post was widely shared and thereafter, a few journalists contacted me to talk about Evan and his story. Through social media, I got to know other moms who went through the same tragedy and together the PleaseStay.Movement was born. Through this Movement, we hope to share lived experiences and bring about awareness on youth depression and suicide. It is time that society lifts the veil to see depression for what it is. Youths do suffer from depression and have suicidal thoughts, now more than before. Perhaps the exposure to the harsh realities of the world through social media, perhaps technology, has made us less able to communicate on a human level with other people. Perhaps the lack of effective conversation caused them to harbour a lot of pent-up frustrations within themselves that they are unable to release. Perhaps the stress of education and urban life in general has become more complex compared to 20-30 years ago. Whatever reason or combination of reasons that has contributed to the increasing number of youth suicides, the world needs to know that this is a very serious problem and we, as parents and as a society, need to seriously evaluate and recalibrate the priorities in the life of a child, and to help them lead happier and fulfilling lives.
On a national level, the PleaseStay.Movement believes that Singapore needs a more comprehensive approach to deal with youth suicide. We know that the various agencies in health, education and family life have good mental health programmes. We believe, however, that a national strategy led by a dedicated agency should be formed to lead its coordination and implementation to help save lives.
Read about the 2023 ground-up initiative on suicide prevention here.
To anyone who is feeling that they are emotionally challenged and may need help to cope with negative thoughts, please reach out to someone you trust or a counsellor. Depression is like any disease. There is no shame, no guilt. You want the pain to end, not your life. If you have no access to immediate help, please contact the following.
Crisis Helpline (24/7)
– Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444
– Institute of Mental Health Helpline: 6389 2222
– Brahm Centre Assistline: Weekdays (9am – 6pm): 6655 0000, After hours: 8823 0000 (WhatsApp available)
– Chat Hub at *Scape 6493 6500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a parent who has lost a child to suicide:
– Healing Hearts for suicide-bereaved MOTHERS only – 6467 8903 or WhatsApp 9727 3317
– Child Bereavement Support Singapore (CBSS) – email: email@example.com