Woman who attempted suicide: Life is worth living, I am proof

About 15 years ago, Miss Serene Ho, 41, tried to end it all after going through a bad bout of depression. Thankfully, someone was there to save her.

Now, the part-time Chinese tutor is on a mission to save others from doing the same.

"I want to get the message across that these feelings of depression and loss of confidence are temporary," says Miss Ho, who is a volunteer with suicide prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore (SOS).

Having read the news of the teen suicides in The New Paper last Sunday and reports of the debate on the topic in Parliament, Miss Ho decided to write to the media.

She talked about how she believes that the suicide law can deter survivors from trying to kill themselves again.

She also shared how her guilt and depression led her to try to take her own life.

Miss Ho suffers from brittle bone disease, in which a person has fragile bones that break easily.

The disease made it difficult for Miss Ho to live at home, so she spent most of her childhood at St. Andrew's Orthopaedic Hospital for Children.

Not close

Miss Ho, who is the youngest in a family of four girls and a boy, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "You can understand why I am not close to my siblings or my father.

"My mother, who took care of most of my needs, became my best friend and confidante."

Her mother's kidney cancer was kept from her and she found out only after her mother's death, when she was 19.

"She was in and out of the hospital, and I thought her illness was not serious.

The day after I visited her, she died. To think that day, I didn't stay long and even went for a movie after that.

"I was wracked with guilt," she recalls.

A few years later, she tried to be a social worker with the National Council of Social Service but did not make it.

"I failed the probation period twice, and they had to let me go. I became depressed and lost my self-esteem," she says.

"My relationship with my family was breaking down, and I had nowhere to turn. That was when I thought life was not worth living and tried to end it all.

"I could not sleep at night, and I had no one to talk to, so I would call SOS every night and tell them my sob story.

"Even with my training in social work at university, I missed all the signs that I was suicidal," she adds.

She decided to take action.

"I had depression then. There was no more meaning to my life," she says.

She remembers rolling her wheelchair to the side of the road "somewhere in Tampines", waiting for traffic to build up so she could throw herself at oncoming cars.

She waited for about half an hour for the right moment.

"I don't know why I picked that location then. There were hardly any cars," she says, laughing now.

Still determined to end her pain, Miss Ho returned to her flat, which she shared with her older brother, and downed half the bottle of pills prescribed by a psychiatrist for her depression.

She says: "Instead of killing me, the pills made me very sick. I vomited, and my stomach hurt so much that I sought help from my brother's girlfriend.

"The amazing thing was we went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital by public bus." There, she had her stomach pumped and was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for a few days.

Miss Ho says: "It was after I had been moved from the ICU to the general ward that police officers visited. They told me that attempting suicide is a crime. They were not stern. Instead they were gentle and encouraged me to seek counselling.

"The tears I saw in my sisters' eyes also showed me that killing myself may end my misery but would cause pain to (my) family and friends.

"That was when I realised that suicide is a selfish act. The determination had limited my ability to see the big picture.

I would have ended my pain if I were to die, but my act would have (caused) pain to others."

Religion also played a part in her recovery.

Her friend from university, Mrs Abigail Lim, 41, took her to church.


Mrs Lim says: "Not only did she come to terms with her mother's death then, she also accepted her physical condition and became more understanding."

Miss Ho now tutors primary school pupils and secondary school students in Chinese and volunteers at SOS on an ad hoc basis.

She shares her story with others at events, some of which are organised by SOS.

She was involved in its latest campaign to distribute black plasters as part of its World Suicide Prevention Week campaign to raise awareness of youth suicide.

She says: "I want young people to know that once when you can get over the bad times, then life is worth living. I am proof.

"I tried to kill myself once and I failed.

Now I am here to stop others from attempting to end their lives."

MOE looking into ways to prevent teen suicides

The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced in Parliament on Tuesday that it was reviewing ways to prevent teen suicides.

Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary, said there are often no warning signs, "so we need to find out the other stressors that were not picked up by the existing system and processes that we have".

This was in response to Mr Lim Biow Chuan, the MP for Mountbatten, who highlighted cases of student suicides that were reported by the media.

A week earlier, The New Paper had reported that two students from a top junior college took their lives within 10 days of each other in August.

Mr Lim asked if these students showed any distress signs before the suicides and why were the warnings not detected.

Special hotline

The topic of teen suicides was also raised by Mr Lim Wee Kiak, the MP for Sembawang, and Mr Saktiandi Supaat, the MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh.

They wondered if a special hotline for teenagers, manned by other teens trained in counselling could be set up, but Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said it was not reasonable.

He said: "Counselling such persons requires relevant training, skills, emotional maturity and understanding of life's challenges.

"I think it would not be reasonable to expect teenagers to possess all these pre-requisites."

According to figures recently released by the Samaritans of Singapore, 27 young people, aged between 10 and 19, ended their lives last year - a record for the age group in 15 years.


Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-2837019
Sage Counselling Centre: 1800-5555555
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling: 1800-3535800

This article was first published on Sept 18, 2016.
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