When he was 21-years-old, Mr Lau Jun Ming, 35, started hearing voices. For the last 15 years, Mr Lau has been on a roller coaster ride dealing with a severe mental illness.
“It first started in 2006 when I was watching a world cup football match,” says Mr Lau, who is now the Centre Coordinator, MINDSET Learning Hub for the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH).
"Around 4:30am, I started hearing people scolding me, and I kept taunting the voices internally in my head. Finally, at around 5:30am, I shouted [at] and dared the voices by challenging them to a fight in my void deck. The outburst was so loud that it woke my mum.
“The next day she took me to a mental health specialist, and I was then diagnosed by the doctor as having schizophrenia with anxiety.”
While the diagnosis was the first step in Mr Lau's long journey to improving his mental health, he first looked to more traditional methods rather than choosing medication and therapy.
“I sought help from two mediums who thought I was possessed. However, one of them suggested I was suffering from mental illness and that I should seek treatment immediately,” explains Mr Lau.
“[But] after three years of debating and being in denial about my mental health condition, I finally sought a consultation with the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and the doctor prescribed medication to me.”
It took about three months for Mr Lau to feel better. Once he did, Mr Lau’s doctor suggested he seek assistance from the Singapore Association for Mental Health, MINDSET Learning Hub. After an administration traineeship with the group, Mr Lau has now become a full-time staff member.
Sorting out his mental health issues and finding a position in a supportive environment also helped Mr Lau take stock of his life and improve his health.
“I also managed to build up my mental resilience and went on to lose 30kg by exercising regularly and having a balanced diet. This enabled me to look fitter and sharper as well as to be more productive at work,” Mr Lau says.
It’s not easy living with a mental health issue
While Mr Lau’s current circumstances show a successful journey in overcoming the difficulties of living with a mental health issue, it wasn’t always easy.
“My mental health condition prevented me from [holding on to a job],” explains Mr Lau. “Many times, I would resign from work within two to three months of starting – sometimes even within the first few days – due to the stress of being overwhelmed with work or by supervisors or colleagues who were being unfair and unfriendly towards me.”
Due to his mental health issues, Mr Lau says he would also "crave attention and assurance" from his colleagues, resulting in "spamming supervisors with calls to feel a sense of comfort and belonging”.
“This may not have gone down well with my supervisors and I felt that they were against me. When this happened, I would then resign from my job,” admits Mr Lau.
Mr Lau also experienced discrimination while working. In one instance, he was not invited to a workplace event and was told that they "didn't feel it was appropriate to ask him to attend”.
“Later, my supervisor explained to me that when someone didn’t invite me to an event, it did not mean that they disliked me. [She said] it could be that they felt comfortable with other people, and they might have had personal or other issues that they wanted to address, and it might not have been appropriate or relevant to include me.”
His supervisor taking the time to explain an interpersonal situation helped Mr Lau deal with workplace situations in a more measured way.
“She told me that everyone has a choice to think positively or negatively. What you want your outcome to be depends on your own thoughts or mindset, and the one in control of my thoughts is myself. I resonated with that as I realised many things are not to be taken personally and that has helped to manage such situations,” explains Mr Lau.
“My mental health condition also impacted my daily life, as I had very low self-esteem. For example, I would often stare at the floor while walking in public as I constantly heard voices telling me not to walk with my head held up because if I did so, I was [being] told that I was arrogant and would be a nuisance to the public.”
Although the medication was necessary and helped with Mr Lau's mental health issues, it also caused some side effects: "Due to the side effects of medication, I was overweight in the past and struggled physically because this caused me to always feel lethargic. I would often feel sleepy and sleep through the day.”
However, not every experience Mr Lau has had with mental health concerns has been negative; there have been positive experiences.
“During one of my sharing sessions at a local school in front of over 150 students, I felt that the students appreciated my sharing and my insights on how to effectively help persons in recovery [from mental health issues],” says Mr Lau.
“I vividly recall one of the examples brought up by a student about one of his friends who dared not approach anyone for help as he was very ashamed of his condition. The student then asked me how I would have helped the friend in this situation?
“I told him I could relate to the friend’s concern because I was once in the same predicament. After sharing my experiences with them, the students gave me a standing ovation and shared that they were proud of my courage to seek help for myself. They also reiterated that you need to take the first step since if you do not help yourself, no one will help you.
“This affirmation made me feel more positive and encouraged about what I’m doing in SAMH, and is something that I may not be able to feel elsewhere,” says Mr Lau. “The empowerment, encouragement, and the results I see in a client's growth, as well as the ability to reach out to the public, makes working in the mental health sector a fulfilling journey.
“I hope to continue to inspire and share with others that when there is a will, there is always a way.”
“People should understand that living with a mental health condition is not a crime, sin or a taboo. It’s a condition that most often came about either due to environmental factors or past trauma. People in recovery should be treated fairly and with dignity.”
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The Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) is a non-profit and non-government social service organisation that provides a comprehensive range of mental health services, including rehabilitative, outreach and creative services, to the community in Singapore. For more information, go to www.samhealth.org.sg.