Many people battle with mental illnesses for years and even decades. For teenager Codi*, it started when she was in kindergarten. For much of her childhood and teenage years, she was unaware of her anxiety as it silently tormented her.
My first panic attack occurred when I was six.
I remembered that my kindergarten teacher was informing the class about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The more she told us of the devastation and horrors of the earthquake, the more I felt uneasy. My breathing was heavy, my heart palpitated, my mind raced to the point where I felt like blacking out. When I could not pretend to be okay anymore, without thinking, I ran up to my teacher and hugged her, sobbing.
When she informed my parents, they asked me what happened and why. I said I was scared of earthquakes and death. That was just a small part of how I felt. I was just as perplexed as them.
I only knew that I thought that I was going to die.
I am now 19. For much of my life since that incident, a single thought constantly reverberates through my mind.
When can I be “normal”? When can I live a month or a day or even a single hour without a constant feeling of dread circling the recesses of my mind?
I have worried about the smallest things for the longest time, often concealing these dark fears within me. At first, my “episodes” came only biannually but always lasted at least a few weeks. Then, in secondary school, they started happening frequently.
Now, it is a daily struggle.
My triggers (things I get worried about) vary vastly, but always involve my fear of dying and not being able to live my life fully. When one trigger fades, another takes its place.
Some old triggers included curses when I was eight, cancer when I was 15 and blood when I was 17. Each episode lasted a few months or even years and each time, my world felt like it was ending. I could not enjoy living, the thought that my life was in danger constantly lingered. I was chained in my own mind. Trying to comfort myself, I would tremble and erupt in cold sweat, repeating the same thoughts over and over again.
I felt that I was a burden to my family, needing constant reassurance. They would get frustrated from comforting me like a broken record.
Once, during a serious episode, I saw my grandmother cry for the first time.
When I was 16, my parents brought me to see a therapist. My episodes finally proved too much for us to handle and we started to suspect that I had a mental illness. Looking back, it should have been obvious, but we were clueless about mental health.
I was diagnosed with anxiety. For years, I had anxiety but never knew. I just sat like I was a punching bag. The diagnosis changed my life.
For the first time I could fight back, because I knew who my enemy was.
If I had known about mental health back in kindergarten, I would have had an easier time handling my condition.
On 19 July 2021, a 13-year-old River Valley High School student was killed by his 16-year-old senior, shocking Singapore. According to The Straits Times, the accused had a history of mental health issues, quickly spurring conversations about mental health in children and students. Now, more are seeking help. According to psychologist Dr Shawn Ee, his clientele of students rose by 20 per cent in just one month. Many are also struggling with their mental well-being due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Health Minister Mr Ong Ye Kung, suicide rates for those aged 10 to 29 increased 30.4 per cent in 2020.
Apart from educating youth and children about mental health, caretakers should help them identify and cope with mental illnesses. Reliable resources on mental health are easily accessible via official websites such as imh.com.sg. Seeing a psychologist is the best and safest bet, and there are government subsidies available for visits.
Some may argue that children should not be educated on mental health issues because they are too young to understand. I wholeheartedly disagree. If I had known about mental health back in kindergarten, I would have had an easier time handling my condition. No child should suffer the confusion and helplessness that I went through.
The best way to support someone suffering from mental health issues is to understand. Lend us your ears, we do not need advice, we just need someone to listen. If you are suffering from mental health issues, seek help and never give up.
I am still fighting.
We are still fighting.
*Name has been changed for privacy
Codi is a Year 3 student from the Diploma in Media and Communication (DMC) at the Media, Arts & Design (MAD) School in Singapore Polytechnic. She wrote the above article about seeking professional help for her anxiety, as part of a journalism assignment where students are trained to write a personal, factual story.
- Covid-19: Suicide rate among 10-19 age group rises in 2020 year-on-year. TODAYonline. (2021). Retrieved 27 August 2021, from https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/covid-19-suicide-rate-among-10-19-age-group-jumps-375-2020-year-year.
- Elangovan, N. (2021). The Big Read: Students’ silent cry for help, as Covid-19 fallout erodes parental and peer support for some. TODAYonline. Retrieved 27 August 2021, from https://www.todayonline.com/big-read/big-read-students-silent-cry-help-covid-19-fallout-erodes-parental-and-peer-support-some.
- IAU, J. (2021). River Valley High School student, 16, charged with murder of schoolmate, 13. The Straits Times. Retrieved 27 August 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/river-valley-high-school-student-16-charged-with-murder-of-schoolmate-13.
- Institute of Mental Health. imh.com.sg. (2012). Retrieved 27 August 2021, from https://www.imh.com.sg/.
- River Valley High death: More parents send children for mental health assessment | Video. CNA. (2021). Retrieved 27 August 2021, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/watch/river-valley-high-death-more-parents-send-children-mental-health-assessment-video-2121366.