Since 1993, Julius was suffering from Chronic Schizophrenia, Depression Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. Today, Julius is a full-time Peer Support Specialist at Institute of Mental Health (Singapore). Julius has experienced a remarkable recovery, sharing lived experiences, advocating that recovery is possible and Real! To-Gather, Together, Towards an Inclusive Total WEllness Resilient Global Village!
Mr Julius Athanasius Chan suffers from chronic schizophrenia. During the 16 year period, he suffered four breakdowns, with hallucinations and delusions about himself and even about his father, whom he thought betrayed him. Even though it is still painful for him to recall the past, Mr Chan, 39, wants to help schizophrenics. He is now a peer specialist with the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH), an organization which has helped him live a normal life. As a peer specialist, he helps mentally ill patients recover by sharing his personal stories, which instills hope and gives encouragement. Mr, Chan hopes that people with mental illness will step forward and seek treatment. Mr Chan's story began when he was 19 years old. He wanted to pursue priesthood and felt that he was not ready for National Service. "I prayed alot, asking if God could take away this time for me," he says. Mr Chan went overboard.
"I prayed too much..I went to the extreme. I started to confuse myself between God and Satan. I thought i was possessed. I had a breakdown. I asked my father to take me to the church's spiritual director's house." His father did, but on the way in the car, Mr Chan threw a fit and kicked the windscreen, shattering it. His father, Mr Roland Chan, 68, struggled with him in the car and finally made it to the priest's house. Says the elder Mr Chan, "I was very scared. I was thinking of driving him to the police station or hospital to get help but he insisted on getting help from the priest." This was his son's first attack. The priest called an ambulance to treat Mr Chan's injuries. He was later referred to the Institute of Mental Health(IMH) for treatment. After he recuperated, he received a letter exempting him from NS.
He then worked with his dad in a travel agency for about three years. Soon, he felt he was well enough. He started thinking about going to the seminary. He also stopped taking his medication. It was a mistake. Mr Chan suffered a relapse in 1996. He says, "I was so delusional. I wanted to be Saint Francis of Assisi (Italian Catholic friar). I wanted to take off my clothes at the seminary." Back in IMH, he was treated and recuperated. Mr Chan had his second relapse in 1999 when he was working for a trade union. He was on a business trip to New Zealand. Again, he had felt he was well enough and did not take his medicine. this time, he thought he was a priest celebrating mass and drank alot of wine, even during breakfast. While the work conference was still on, Mr Chan tried to return to Singapore and created a ruckus at the airport. He was taken to a hospital and his father had to fly there to see him.
The third relapse came in 2009, when once again, he stopped taking his medicine. Then, Mr Chan, who was working as a trainer for the intellectually disabled, was again thinking of returning to the Seminary. He started having imaginary thoughts, such as the priest asking him to go to his house, which he did. Sensing something was not right, his father called the police and followed him. At the priest's house, Mr Chan put up a struggle with the policemen as he thought they were soldiers attacking him. He was arrested and charged in court. He was given a year of probation and was later referred to SAMH. He was then told he had chronic schizophrenia and will be on medication for the rest of his life. He says, "I couldn't accept it. I didn't even like to see myself in the mirror. I had such poor self-image." His father says, "It was difficult for me to come into terms with this but we had to accept and we try to help." Mr Chan and his family took great pains to hide his illness. He said, "It was such a big secret. If i revealed it, I felt it would be the end of me. I wouldn't have a future." Then came the turning point.
While Mr Chan was at SAMH in 2011, he went through the Illness Management and Recovery (IMR) programme. It helped him to understand his condition, develop personalised strategies to manage his symptoms and enhance his coping skills. Nine sessions later, he was well again. IMR is for anyone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. it is held four times a year for nine weekly sessions at a token sum of $10. Mr Chan joined a refresher course a year later. He also took up a course with a recovery specialist from the US and passed the examination. He later applied to be a peer specialist with SAMH and was hired, making him the first peer specialist in mental health care.
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