Updated: Jun 22
Hello everyone, this is Sonny Kwok, Founder of Yafot Wellness. I’m very excited to chat with Ms Rita Haque. She’s our latest addition to the Yafot Wellness team as our Wellness Coach & CBT Specialist. Today, we’re going to discuss on the mental wellness space in Singapore.
Mental Health & Wellness
Sonny: The need for mental wellness has been increasingly known yet it is still largely a taboo for us in the Asian context. How real is mental wellness issues in our local communities? Able to share with us some of your encounters.
Rita: Depression and Anxiety are very common and seem to be affecting younger people who resort to self-harm and more serious and permanent relief. Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar and Schizophrenia are more serious illnesses. Singapore has the highest number of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) sufferers in the world.
The government is giving this situation more attention. Once we identify a serious disorder that cannot be helped by talk therapy, we immediately refer the client to a practitioner who can offer medical support as it can escalate to dangerous levels.
The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) clearly states the symptoms that guide diagnosis. Usually when a client suffers from sleeplessness, restlessness and agitation for more than two weeks, more help is needed.
Borderline Personality Disorder is more difficult to diagnose because these people are usually high functioning. Sometimes, they can be extreme in their behaviour. It takes an expert to identify and diagnose this condition.
Sonny: How can we approach our friends and family on this topic? Any advice?
Rita: Observation in a change of behaviour is an indication that something is not right.
High sensitivity over small matters
·Overdoing an action like over-washing, bathing, tidying
Meticulous to a fault that it becomes a problem.
If the behaviour persists for more than two weeks, you should approach the person about it. Most people who are experiencing these symptoms are in denial or unaware of their condition.
Asking someone, “How are you, I have noticed you …. for several days now. How can I help you? “is a good start.
Just listen and don’t advise or interrupt. Sometimes they may rudely brush you off. Don’t take it personally. If it starts to escalate, you’ll need professional help.
Request from your local doctor or Institute of Mental Health (IMH). There are help lines you can call depending on the type of problem you face.
However difficult, the person needs to know that you are there for them and that they need help. Try convincing them to seek help. If someone is depressed, don’t try to offer solutions as it can upset them more. Just be with them and win them over. Then find a way to suggest medical help at the right time.
Sonny: You could have continued in corporate coaching (which can be a lucrative trade on its own). What motivates you to coach and counsel in the mental wellness space? What are some of the most challenging moments and greatest rewards in this line?
My Experience with Mental Health Space
Rita: I never intended to be in the mental health space. However, my own son was diagnosed with a mental challenge. For eight years we struggled with it. The relapses were very challenging for us. It’s only after that we were introduced to caregiver training.
The training made me realise that my son was predisposed to mental health issues due to a life- challenging in-vetro experience. Thereafter, I was invited to train other caregivers like me.
It changed my perspective of mental health and realized that my challenges were mild in comparison to what others were experiencing. It changed my focus, increased my empathy and compassion to support other caregivers like me.
I also learned about the correlation between the brain and mental illness. I had the opportunity to attend a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) International conference in Cincinnati USA. There, I met a professor who recovered from Schizophrenia through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
This perked my interest. I was invited to work in the volunteer organisation that supports caregivers. In the two years, I have spoken to over 1000 people and trained more than 200 people in organisations on caregiving and mental health. I’m very familiar with the symptoms and hope to help as many as I can.
Caregivers & The Importance of Self-Care
I have deep compassion for sufferers and realise the huge impact it has on their caregivers. Caregivers are under deep stress especially during the first phase of the mental illness journey. It improves with time. However, caregivers need to learn to self-care. They’re vulnerable to depression, anxiety and failing health if they forget to self-care.
I’m no exception. There was a time when I ignored my own needs. My family had to draw attention to my neglect for my wellbeing. Today, I’m in a healthy space and help those in need to live their lives sustainably.
I don’t treat mental illness with medication and use talk therapy first. If they need medication I refer them to qualified practitioners who offer medication. I can support the mild conditions with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Through evidenced based and practical CBT. It enables the person to support themselves eventually.
Sonny: What’s CBT in a nutshell?
Rita: CBT is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT offers various action-oriented methods to help people change what they’re doing and thinking. Many techniques emphasize the cognitive processes. This orientation is so diverse that there’s no agreement on one definition for this therapy.
Here’s a simple way to look at it: The way we think profoundly influences the way we feel. Therefore, it can be said that thinking differently can enable us to feel and act differently.
Sonny: How soon can someone notice a difference?
Rita: This is not an easy question. It really depends on the work the person puts in to notice the ‘antecedent’- what came before the action. What were they thinking? What events took place before that triggered the action?
These are crucial observations as it supports the improvement process. Like all habits, it takes time to change. However, change is possible. Eventually, it’s easy to practice CBT on your own.
Sonny: How is your approach/techniques different from other coaches/counselor in the market? (CBT)
Rita: My life experience and exposure to similar patients, support for caregivers, academic pursuit in mental health and the extensive work in the mental health support field, equip me with valuable skills in this area.
It’s not the technique that helps a patient. It’s often the attitude, genuine care, patience and willingness to journey with the client as far as they can go to support their recovery.
This is what I am willing to do.