When I was growing up, my mum put a lot of pressure on me, being the first-born and all. I guess that made me feel like she was a tiger mum.

There were a lot of things in my life, like piano and swimming, and I had to balance all these things. My mum would constantly be on my back about them.

While my friends were pursuing sports and being very motivated, I also struggled with understanding why my friends were like that and why I couldn’t be motivated like them.

But as teenagers, you don’t really want to talk to your parents. You want to have your private space, yet don’t know where to draw the line.

Like when do I need to ask for help, when can I manage this by myself? We don’t really want to tell our parents these kinds of things.

So we usually think: “I can just handle it by myself.”

The problem comes when you don’t know how to diagnose it.

I was constantly in a low state.

The first thing that allowed me to open up was my mum saying that she experienced me as having a bit of anxiety.

I was constantly in a low state. When I got come back from school, I would just brush it off and say: “I’m tired.”

But then my mum kept coming to me and saying: “I feel that you might have anxiety. I feel like you are in a low mood.”

I became more open to the idea that I may have anxiety.

And what really helped was finding out that having anxiety is not uncommon; it’s very common for teenagers to experiences these kind of things.

So I was more ready to get the help that I needed.

God, where are you? Do you care?

When I was going through anxiety and depression, I really did feel at certain points that God wasn’t there.

I had a lot of questions and doubts about whether God was real or not. Spiritually, I was in quite a bad place.

It became a cycle — not praying, not doing devotionals, not talking to God daily. Then when something bad happens, you don’t have that pillar of support.

God is always there, but you don’t feel that you’re close enough to God to share your problems. Therefore, you become even more anxious and even more depressed.

Until I had a turning point at a youth service.

Sean experienced a spiritual breakthrough during an altar call. From then on, he began to take small steps towards God.

The topic was specifically on depression and anxiety, and the pastor or the service leader said: “I feel like God wants to heal depression and anxiety.”

I went to the front during the altar call. When I prayed and lifted up my hands, I just felt God’s healing power and His love wash through me, and I teared up.

From that day on, God showed me that I couldn’t live in this cycle anymore. I had to break the cycle.

I was so convicted that on that very night I sat down, listened to worship songs and just prayed. The next day, I felt different.

And I must say, it wasn’t, “Oh, I’m healed from here.” It also wasn’t, “Oh, I encountered God and then my entire life just changed.”

It took a big part of me to continually pursue God and to hunger and thirst for Him — to seek His presence.

Seeking answers to my questions

One very common question I had was: If God is good, why does God let bad things happen?

I really cried myself to sleep quite a lot. 

I was always asking: “Why? Why do you just leave me like that? God, are you even there? Why would you let me go through such a painful life?”

I thought I said the Sinner’s Prayer. I thought I was saved.

Some other thoughts and emotions I had to process include:

  • Having a very big misconception that once I got saved everything would be okay; that everything would be like greener pastures and smooth; that I won’t have any trouble, trials and tribulations. 
  • A lot of anger towards God. I didn’t act out, but I was angry at Him.
  • I also felt very clueless and was really, really lost.

But when I had that encounter with God at the altar, He assured me.

One of our leaders in church described it like that: It’s very much like a shepherd watching over sheep.

Sheep do silly things all the time, but that doesn’t mean that a shepherd isn’t watching over them.

God is always sovereign and looking out — that really changed my entire perspective.

Instead of saying, “God, I’m so angry! Why do you let me suffer?”, I’ve learnt to take a different posture to say, “God, thank you so much. Thank you for looking after me.”

What helped me

In managing my anxiety and depression, there are a few things that have kept me going.

Firstly, a strong community of Christian friends who ask me how I’m doing and keep me in check. This is really important because a big cause of depression and anxiety is loneliness.

Having no one to support you when you’re going through depression and anxiety only results in you plunging even further and deeper.

Secondly, the counsel of leaders and mentors. They are part of that strong community!

I feel blessed that I have nice, caring leaders that I can open up to without being judged.

They are always open to hear how I’m doing, they make me comfortable to share anything, and they intercede on my behalf.

Thirdly, communication. Sharing with my mum was hard, but when I finally did it, I had a “chains are broken” kind of moment.

Sean and his mother, who has experience as a clinical psychotherapist. 

For those experiencing anxiety, try this

Speak to someone you can trust

Share with them: “Hey, I’m going through anxiety.” Have somebody that’s going to speak life into you.

One of the best things that I ever did was to tell my mum and my church leader.

Be even more consistent with your prayer life

I get it, it’s really difficult to build a strong prayer life because you have these thoughts every day.

How do you quieten yourself to speak to God?

Start small and continue increasing frequency and duration spent with Him. Also, continue going to church and hanging out with godly friends.

Sean credits his community in church as being key to helping him manage his anxiety and depression.

Adopt an “aggressive stance”

Linking back to strengthening your prayer life, go with a “I’m going to try to survive” mentality.

When you feel these things or have these thoughts, don’t simply go “oh, ouch” and you just fall back. Don’t let it take you.

The harder you feel attacked by these emotions and feelings, the harder you should put on the armour of God; the stronger you should fight, and the stronger you should intercede.

When you fall, stand up and continue moving forward

Once you’ve established a healthy environment, that will bring you further away from that cliff. You won’t fall back as much.

I do fall sometimes, but I can still pick myself up.

I’ll admit, when I moved house recently, I did have a close panic attack. While it didn’t cause me to spiral into anything too deep, I knew I was really, really stressed.

Thoughts wise, do not feel that you’re going back to square one all the time.

His grace and mercy renews every day, and that never ever changes.

We’ve got to remind ourselves of that, so we don’t fall into that cycle that I mentioned earlier. And we can break that cycle!

Sean and his church friends.

My battle with mental health has been a tumultuous, up-and-down kind of journey.

Some days, you just feel you can do it, like “I’m gonna win it”.

But anxiety is not a one-day thing, where you wake up, feel good and it’s never going to come back again.

My mother often reminds me that resilience is about internal strength and being secure in who I am.

You have to identify that driving force and know your passions and purpose in life.

You have to know what’s the meaning of doing all this.

Over time, I came to realise that swimming wasn’t what I wanted to do competitively. Competitions bring a lot of stress and anxiety because a split second makes a difference.

Since I felt it wasn’t for me, and that I was pushed to do it by my parents, friends and coaches, swimming brought me a lot of anxiety and depression.

One thing I did was to change to another sport — triathlon — which still has the swimming component but is more relaxed.

I’m not saying that it’s not hard. Triathlon is way, way hard, but I just feel that sense of joy because I actually like working out.

I find so much more joy in training nowadays. And it’s having that joy in your heart, which will help you push through these things that will come at you.

It’s definitely not a one-time thing, where I’m doing this so I feel happy and free, and I’m never going to get anxiety or depression again.

It’s a process that I have to work through with myself every single day.

But God is always there. Even during youth camp recently, He reminded me that He’s in control and He’s sovereign.

In the darkest valley, even though I might be going through a tough time, He’s still there and He still watches over me.

Sean is currently pursuing a Diploma in Business Studies through the Singapore Sports School through-train programme.

In facing down his mental health struggles, he discovered the importance of working on his relationship with God and opening up to the people around him. 

Sean was also one of the speakers at the Be.Live Conference on July 1 that was organised by Focus on the Family Singapore.

From today (July 4), the local charity will be running a Youth Day campaign to empower youths to take small steps to reconnect and bridge the communication gap with their family members. 

Themed START, it focuses on helping young people recognise that it only takes one step to begin making a difference in their family.

More details can be found at www.famchamps.sg/start!

  1. Are there things that you are angry at God for? Are you spending enough quiet time with Him to hear what He might have to tell you? 
  2. Do you know what are the symptoms of anxiety and depression? 
  3. Which of these tips shared by Sean might be helpful for you?

If you’re feeling troubled and would like to chat with someone, help is also available at these centres:

  • Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1-767 (1-SOS) (24-hour) | [email protected]| m.me/SamaritansofSingapore
  • Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24-hour)
  • National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
  • Care Corner Counselling Centre (English and Mandarin): 6353 1180
  • TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252
  • Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: ec2.sg
  • Tinkle Friend by Singapore Children’s Society: 1800-274-4788 | tinklefriend.sg (online chat)
  • Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385-3714