BY VICTORIA BARKER
IN 2002, Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Chia Kai Xin, then aged 11, watched on as her father battled depression.
At the time, her auditor-father, now 50, was in the midst of a messy divorce from Miss Chia's mother. He was constantly down and even displayed violent tendencies, which Miss Chia would not elaborate on.
Miss Chia, now 19, told my paper: "It was very scary for me because I didn't understand it. I thought he was faking (the depression) or just blowing things out of proportion."
Her father is still on medication and sees a psychiatrist regularly for therapy sessions.
The harrowing experience prompted Miss Chia - who is now a final-year Psychology and Community Services student - to develop an interest in understanding mental illness.
According to the 2004 National Mental Health survey, 16 per cent of Singaporeans, or one in six, suffer from some form of mental illness. The conditions range from stress-related anxiety disorders to more serious cases such as schizophrenia.
This number is expected to rise as Singapore's population ages and the risk of disease increases with it, said Ms Sng Yan Ling, deputy director of the Mental Health Education Department at the Health Promotion Board (HPB).
World Mental Health Day will be marked on Sunday and is aimed at raising awareness of mental illnesses and at "boosting positive mental well-being among Singaporeans". A HPB-organised roadshow will be held at Marina Square this weekend.
Miss Chia, too, has done her part to help sufferers by spearheading the Youth Connect Programme at the Simei Care Centre (SCC), a psychiatric rehabilitation centre. She spent a four-month internship there.
The initiative, which began in May, is believed to be the first of its kind in the mental-health sector. It aims to create opportunities for young people recovering from mental illnesses to socialise with other young people.
"In doing my research, I interviewed some affected young members and most said they have very few friends," said Miss Chia. "I thought it would be helpful for them to share their experiences with others."
Monthly excursions are organised under the programme for SCC's young members, whose ages range from 18 to 35. Miss Chia said: "The members talk about the struggles they face.
"By doing this, volunteers realise that those suffering from a mental illness are not so different from the rest of us. It's important that more people realise that."
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