Mended by love: A mental health professional offers hope and help
Arielle Ong // September 29, 2019, 7:07 pm
This was a response written to a story we ran earlier this month: “There are more like Jarrid: Why I’m breaking the silence at 30”.
Last Friday night, I skipped cell group and headed back home to sleep early as I was feeling exhausted and feverish. Before I slept, I did the usual – read that day’s Bible devotions on my phone.
But before I knew it, I was scrolling through social media. It was then that I chanced upon the Thir.st article on Pastor Jarrid Wilson’s suicide, written by Joanne Kwok. This line from the caption caught my attention: “There’s something that happened during Jarrid Wilson’s last four hours on earth. And from personal experience, a matter of minutes is all it takes.”
Her words tugged at my heartstrings. Having met Joanne personally before, I was honestly surprised that she had gone through so many years of struggle with suicidal thoughts. I remembered her as bubbly and outgoing, somebody I wouldn’t associate with what she called “a debilitating self-hatred”, not to mention suicide.
Yet, I was not entirely taken aback by what she shared. Based on my observation as a trained counsellor, coupled with knowledge on mental health, there are no overt signs that one is struggling with mental health issues and suicide.
This is especially true for those we term “languishers”, people who experience a very low quality of life because of poor mental health but are still “functional” at the same time – what some call “smiling depression”. As such, you wonder how many persons are actually suffering in silence, resulting in suicide.
I lost my first close friend, Michelle*, to suicide when I was in Primary 5.
That eventful evening, I received a call from her mother, who wanted to check if I had seen her board the school bus because she had not come home that afternoon. It was already 8pm then.
I told her that I wasn’t sure and tried my best to assure her that Michelle should be fine. I was hoping to see her in school the next day and was wondering if anybody had any updates before assembly time that morning.
But that same morning, two friends and I were called to the vice-principal’s office. We were informed that Michelle had jumped from one of the HDB blocks near her home. Her suicide was reported in the newspaper.
As I write this, I remember so vividly how Michelle looked back then – this gentle, quiet and amicable person. I can’t help but tear up as I recall the entire incident. In the midst of being traumatised by the news back then at 11 years old, I couldn’t help but try to track back on the anomalies in her the day before.
I regretted. I regretted not trusting my guts and reaching out to her the day when I sensed that she was abnormally quiet after having been chided by the teacher for illegible handwriting. At that age, I just didn’t know that such abnormal behaviour could be symptomatic of suicide intention. The concept of suicide just wasn’t in my worldview at all. I just thought that she was upset after having been scolded by the teacher.
In my grief, I told myself after Michelle’s passing that I wouldn’t wish for anybody to pass me by like that and that I would try my best to care. But Michelle wasn’t my only encounter with suicide. I lost another secondary school senior to suicide when I was in my late teens.
As somebody trained in mental health, suicide is a familiar term to me these days.
News of people taking their own lives is also not uncommon. So I was honestly caught by surprise to find myself so gripped by that article on Jarrid Wilson. I found myself telling God and two other friends whom I was texting that I wanted to “make this world a better place”.
“What an idealistic thought!” my mind interjected. Yet, I knew that I was serious about it, as much as I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to “make this world a better place”. My sleep was disrupted that night.
The next day, I woke up to another article on somebody who struggled through depression in seminary. I really can’t tell you how heavy my heart was on Saturday.
At the same time, I was reminded of the saying: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men do nothing.” I told myself I really had to get my act together and do something about mental health advocacy.
I had ideas of what I could do. I had always felt very passionate about advocating for the mental health field by sharing my academic and practitioner knowledge, with the primary intention of breaking the stigma – which are generalised negative ideas about mental health.
I never got down to it because I felt that my efforts would be too insignificant and wouldn’t amount to anything. That is the funny thing about life. When I was younger, with no substance and knowledge, I wanted to change the world. But now that I am older and equipped with the proper skillsets, I feel small and insignificant.
Last weekend, after reading the article, I decided that I should wait no more. I got down to work and started an Instagram account as my way of advocating for mental health. I named it @kintsugi.ahava.
Kintsugi refers to “golden joinery”, a form of Japanese pottery that is driven by the philosophy that the broken can be restored with gold and made even more beautiful than before. Ahava is the Hebrew word for “love in action”, which I believe has the power to do this healing.
@kintsugi.ahava is my little effort to make this world a better and more loving place by educating the public on mental health – my way of showing “love in action.”
The moment I started the account, the Lord sent His word that night through a devotion.
It was on giving generously despite being stretched – that life is about sowing the seeds and surrendering my five loaves and two fishes to Him and waiting for Him to work while waiting patiently to reap what has been sown.
And He didn’t stop affirming this endeavour. The next morning, He spoke again through 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 on the same theme on giving generously and sowing seeds no matter how small they are because He will provide and that lives will be ministered to:
“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.
“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:10-15)
God did not just speak, He has also sent fellow sojourners alongside in this endeavour. I am currently manning the page with my friend who is a social worker and counselling psychologist by training.
Some friends have also volunteered to link me up with people who are working in the mental health space. At the bare minimum, I could sense the heartfelt support from friends in this seemingly crazy endeavour of mine.
I am keeping in mind Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.” So we dedicate our little efforts to God, in hopes that He will use this platform to mend hearts and heal broken souls.
It has been a season of the Lord impressing upon my heart that it is time to no longer feel small or insignificant. While I honestly do not have any dreams to change the world, I certainly do wish to be remembered as somebody who brought ahava, love in action, to the world, for people really do grow and heal when they are loved.
“Love is as effective as medicines. It enables some patients to recover incredibly fast.” (Doctors Without Borders)
I am glad I have found my version of how I can make this world a better place. As I write this, I guess it was divine that the article came that Friday night and got me thinking about doing something. I prayed the very next morning for the Lord to show me where I could serve Him. You could say the Lord has spoken.
*All names in this article, including the author’s, has been changed for confidentiality.
THINK + TALK
- How is God calling you to minister to those struggling with mental health?
- What does “love in action” for the mental health community look like to you?
- What can the Church do to advocate for mental health?