Runner aims to ease the suffering of others

Most people run for a reason. Some run for a cause. On Dec 7, when Chen Siyun takes off from the starting line of the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS), she will be powered by a conviction, and the lasting memory of a friend.

Chen is running for best friend Mel (not her real name), who committed suicide in April. Mel was suffering from depression.

Said Chen, who is running in the full marathon category: "We knew about her condition, but she sounded fine, as always, and agreed to come out. There were no warning signs at all.

"She had a baby son, was happily married, and was happy at her job. She was just telling us she had a good boss.

"When I got the call from her mother, I cried the entire day. It still hurts. Now Mel's son will never get to know her, and her parents have to deal with losing her at their old age."

Unable to prevent her friend's passing, Chen is doing something now as she seeks closure from a heart-wrenching chapter.

Through the marathon's official fund-raising platform GIVE Asia, the 32-year-old, who picked up running three years ago, hopes to raise awareness of depression through her "In Memory of Mel" campaign.

She hopes to fight the stigma attached to the condition, while raising funds for the Institute of Mental Health.

The DBS Bank assistant relationship manager said no one should be subjected to the anguish and pain that consumed her when she heard the news.

Said Chen, who will be running in only her second marathon: "People are afraid to talk about it. But I believe it's an illness that just needs to be treated, with medication and counselling.

"People are more willing to seek help if there is no stigma attached. I believe if Mel had sought treatment, the devastating outcome could have been avoided."

Recalling comedian Robin Williams' death in August, she said: "It can happen to anyone. The rich, the famous, and the funny. We should not look at depression patients differently. We can never understand what they are going through. All we can do is be patient."

Chen is still grappling with losing Mel for the second time. About 12 years ago, Mel was hospitalised after attempting to take her own life.

That was when her condition came to light. Yet, instead of finding solace in her friends, Mel decided to cut them off.

For seven years, despite efforts from Chen to reach out, there was no reply from her friend, who changed her number, and informed her mother to turn away all visitors.

Just when it seemed she had lost a friend, about four years ago, Mel reached out through a mutual friend.

Said Chen: "I was so happy she reached out, so I didn't want to bring up the past because I was afraid it would scare her off. So we acted like nothing happened."

Now, a part of her regrets not talking about Mel's condition. A part of her wonders if she could have made a difference. Until today, she has no idea why Mel cut her off, or what was eating away at her best friend.

She never will, but with each step of the race, she hopes to ease the depression sufferers' burden, as she charts her own path to recovery from her own loss.

This article was first published on Nov 29, 2014.
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