Don't be an escapist. Don't be angry.

  • Don't be an escapist. Don't be angry.

    By Club2Care

    Qualification : Peer Support

    Wednesday April 18 2018 15:46 PM Comments 0

    Jack (name changed to protect identity) is a 60 year old man in Singapore who struggled with reactive depression and is now on the way to recovery.


    Jack was working and living a fairly uneventful life with his wife and 3 daughters, until an accident and surgery in 2006 left him with a hip problem that required him to stop working and undergo therapy sessions, plus put up with pain and restricted movement. Naturally this affected the family’s financial situation, but as his wife was also working, the family managed to pull along and gradually recover from this setback. Just as things were looking stable for the family, in 2013 Jack developed another health condition that was eventually diagnosed as a nasal tumour. Another surgery and rounds of treatment later, Jack had recovered but was unable to swallow fully and could not turn his neck properly. Moreover the hospital bills and his inability to take on a full-time job placed a heavy financial strain on the family.

    Through these setbacks, Jack had the support and loving care of his family. Having always been of a religious mind, he was a regular Church-goer and involved himself in Church activities. He also had a small set of friends that he got together with on some evenings. Though they would occasionally get a few beers, Jack was not a heavy or regular drinker.

    Onset of mental illness

    Gradually, the family was coming to terms with Jack’s health issues and even he was coping well, when fate struck another heavy blow in the form of his wife’s sudden heart-attack in late 2016, followed by bypass surgery and another stenting procedure in early 2017. As a close-knit couple, this was a severe jolt to Jack. Also it meant that it was now his wife who had to be taken care of until she recovered, and the loss of her nursing job as well, putting an even greater financial burden on the family.

    The wife did eventually recover but by Sept 2017 Jack had increasingly began to feel like he was a burden to the family, having been dependent on his family’s care for so many years instead of taking care of all of them as he wished to. He was already feeling bogged down by the repeated setbacks and financial difficulties. These thoughts led to a depressed state of mind and eventually suicidal thoughts. Surprisingly, even his family members did not realise how depressed Jack was, probably because he took care not to trouble them with his feelings and chose to suffer alone.

    Reaching the brink

    That choice could have been disastrous.

    In this state of mind, Jack met his friends one day as usual for a beer, and lingered alone with his thoughts after the meetup. This was in Sept 2017. Feeling particularly depressed and suicidal that day, Jack decided to end his life. The considerate family man that he was, even in that disturbed state of mind it occurred to him that his family could be blamed for his suicide and with the intention of shielding them from blame, he called 999 to inform the Police that he was taking his life of his own free will.

    The lady who took the call knew exactly how to handle such a situation. She kept Jack engaged on the phone without alerting him and simultaneously tracked his location and arranged for a Police team to accost him. The Police arrived at Jack’s location even before he finished his call. He was taken to the Station and then to IMH under medical supervision, and his family was called. Jack was kept under supervision at IMH for 8 days, wherein he was given counselling as well as medication. His condition was diagnosed as ‘Reactive Depression’ (i.e. depression triggered by adverse life events), brought on by the continuous setbacks and difficulties he had been facing in life.

    Impact of diagnosis

    Amazingly, Jack’s family did not scold or blame him for attempting suicide. They visited him at IMH daily, and were caring and supportive as usual towards him. They understood that he had behaved like that under depression, and kept reassuring him that he should not feel himself to be a burden and that they could face their difficulties together. Even after Jack was discharged, his wife did not show anger, blame or harshness towards him but was caring.

    During his week at IMH, Jack had occasion to interact with some of the other patients there, some he describes as filled with angst or violence. Being of a generally calm, friendly and wise disposition, Jack developed a good rapport with some of his co-patients, providing a listening ear for their stories and even advising them from his own life experiences. Jack describes this as a turning point for himself. When he saw others suffering from huge problems in life, severe mental issues and causing distress to themselves and their families through their mishandling of their situation, it gave him a sort of perspective on his own life. He began to count his blessings, starting with his loving supportive family, his friends, and his faith. This greatly helped him to come back from the brink of his depression and take a step towards healing himself.

    Road to recovery

    After the initial treatment at IMH and the check up and counselling that followed, jack was put on 4 months of medication, with regular calls from his case manager to follow up on his progress. On the lifestyle front, Jack began to devote more time to prayer and church activities, often together with his wife. He also read spiritual books. For him, all this appears to have worked like therapy – he describes himself as becoming more positive and accepting of life. It is not as if life changed overnight and the health and finance problems disappeared. However, now Jack feels more able to face them and attributes this to his reliance on his faith, describing it as leaving all cares to God. Some of the other coping strategies he used were – tackling one thing at a time, not making any hasty decisions, consulting the family in all matters, not focusing on “I” but leaving it to the power above.

    Luckily for Jack, though he had moments of weakness during his reactive depression that could have cost him his life, he was able to quickly realise his weakness and take steps to strengthen himself. When he was in IMH, Jack remembers counselling his fellow patients not to give in to depression and not to get angry as “one cannot think when angry”. He offers this as his advice to those who are feeling depressed. He also advises such people not to be escapist, not to drink but instead think of solutions and to put their trust in God (whichever God they follow), accepting that “God is the main switch”.

    What we can learn from this

    Jack struggle and recovery highlights two important anchors in the fight against depression – the supportive role of family members/ caregivers, and the motivational power of faith. Of course his story also shows the importance of not suffering alone – had Jack not called the Police that day, no one would have known about this illness and we may have lost him to it!

    Jack was interviewed by Bhanu Raju.

    Contributed by Club2Care Singapore. 


    The opinions expressed in Healthy Mind Online “Specialist Opinion” are solely those of the named Specialist, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Some information have been abridged from the mentioned sources. Nothing in the content should be considered, or used as a substitute for medical advice, psychiatric advice, diagnosis or treatment. This site and its services do not constitute the practice of any medical, psychiatric nursing or other professional health care advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. We advise users to always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions regarding personal health, medical or psychiatric conditions.

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