Grieving mothers who lost their children to suicide launch new advocacy group to raise awareness

(From left) Ms Jenny Teo, Madam Tan Lay Ping, Ms Elaine Lek and Ms Doreen Kho during the launch of advocacy group, PleaseStay., which raises awareness on youth suicides. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Five of the mothers in advocacy group PleaseStay., including (from left) Ms Jenny Teo, Madam Tan Lay Ping, Ms Valerie Lim, Ms Doreen Kho and Ms Elaine Lek. Ms Teo, Madam Tan, Ms Kho and Ms Lek are also founders of the group. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - On the way to the crematorium two days after her young son's suicide, Ms Doreen Kho vowed that his death would not be in vain.

Eleven-year-old Evan Low jumped off the 16th floor of a condominium block in central Singapore in November 2017.

The eldest of Ms Kho's four children, Evan wrestled with depression and was often in tears. He was on medication for depression for about five months prior to his death.

"The day before he passed away, he received his Primary 5 maths results. He scored 58 marks. He was devastated," she said. "We were never focused on the grades, we always told him that his best was good enough. But he felt the peer pressure to perform."

Her desire to help others led her to search for ways to reach out to suicidal youth and their family.

On Tuesday (Oct 29), Ms Kho, together with five other bereaved mothers launched an advocacy group, PleaseStay., to raise awareness of youth suicides.

SPH Brightcove Video
Ms Elaine Lek shares her story of losing her teenage son, Zen Dylan Koh, to suicide and how she deals with the tragedy and pain.

Made up of about 14 mothers who had lost children to suicide, the group hopes to be a catalyst for change.

The group also released a video on Tuesday, in which four mothers share the experiences and memories of their children.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 29. Nineteen boys aged 10 to 19 committed suicide in 2018, the highest since suicide figures were first recorded by the Samaritans of Singapore in 1991.

"Many people underestimate a child's depression. Even though the children are young, their insecurities are still important," said Ms Kho.

PleaseStay. advocates support for mental wellness and suicide prevention among youth. Members hope to use their experiences as resources that partners and community can tap.

Remote video URL

    • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

    • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

    • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222

    • Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

    • Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

    • Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

    • CHAT Hub at *SCAPE 6493 6500

Said Ms Valerie Lim, an advocate who is helping to start the movement: "We want to be a source of information for the community, schools, policymakers and decision makers. We want them to have knowledge of what happens in the homes and lives of these children so that we can help them."

Ms Lim, 56, is one of the founders of Child Bereavement Support (Singapore), a support group for parents. The organisation is leading the new group.

Ms Elaine Lek, another founding member of PleaseStay., said: "Through our personal experiences, we hope to build platforms to engage youth-at-risk, garner community support and dispel misconceptions about mental illness."

Ms Lek, 54, is the mother of 17-year-old Zen Dylan Koh, who took his own life in 2018.

Urging all segments of society to come together, Ms Lim said: "We need a coordinated and integrated approach. The issue of youth suicide is complex. Together we can go a long way in reaching out to these young lives."

For Ms Kho, her first-born Evan will always be close to her heart.

"I spent my whole life protecting Evan against illnesses and accidents. But I couldn't protect him against depression," she said. "As a family, we openly talk about him like he is with us. In a way he always will be."

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