Book of stories about conquering mental illness launched at charity's 5th anniversary dinner

Club Heal's chief patron, President Halimah Yacob buys a book on auction at the charity's fifth anniversary dinner held at Keat Hong Community Club on Jan 18.
Club Heal's chief patron, President Halimah Yacob buys a book on auction at the charity's fifth anniversary dinner held at Keat Hong Community Club on Jan 18.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - It was a Friday afternoon in 2009 when Ms Aneez Fathima received a phone call from her son's school not only to take him home but also to take him out of the school.

A couple of days earlier, her seven-year-old son Faheem, who was autistic, had poked one of his Bukit View Primary School classmates with a pair of scissors.

When she and Faheem returned home, her husband Mohamad Farook said he would take their only child out for "lunch and Friday prayers".

The next time Ms Aneez saw them was at the foot of a residential block nearby - father and son had fallen 24 storeys to their death. She was devastated.

In 2015, the Indian permanent resident became a volunteer at Club Heal, a charity that offers rehabilitation and counselling services to those suffering from mental illness.

She termed it a "calling from God", and is today a full-time para counsellor with Club Heal.

Her story is one of the 17 published in a book on mental illness that was launched on Thursday evening (Jan 18) at the charity's fifth anniversary dinner held at Keat Hong Community Club.

Titled A Place In The Sun, the book is written by Club Heal's resident writer Yohanna Abdullah, 50, who shared her own 20-year journey with bipolar disorder. The book has a Malay version, Di Bawah Sinaran Mentari.

A book on mental health tips, You Can Be Your Best, by retired mental health nurse Heryani Jamaludin, was also launched on Thursday evening.

There were also performances, including a Malay form of performing arts called dikir barat, a sharing session by Club Heal peers and caregivers, and an auction of paintings.

A painting from the Rotary Club of Singapore was presented to Club Heal's chief patron, President Halimah Yacob.

In a speech at the dinner, Madam Halimah called for more understanding to break down the stigma and barriers against mental illness.

"A good starting point for us to be helpful is to find out more about mental illness so that we will not prejudge the sufferers or subject them to ridicule and contempt," she said.

Also present at the dinner was Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad.

Mr Zaqy cited a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that found Singaporean students suffered from higher levels of anxiety about tests and grades than their international peers.

Such stress can lead to sleep problems, angry outbursts, depression and even self-harm in some cases, he said.

But the stigma surrounding mental illness makes it hard for them to seek help, he added.

Club Heal, which runs three centres, has helped almost 2,000 people since 2012.

In 2016, it expanded its services to dementia patients and their caregivers, a move the President called timely on Thursday, given Singapore's rapidly ageing population.

Club Heal's president Radiah Halim said the charity is now looking at expanding its services to addiction issues.