Living with bipolar disorder: How she rose from hurtful labels and is now helping others

With the aid of an NCSS member social service agency, she managed to take charge of her life, and encourages others to play a part in building a more caring and inclusive Singapore

Ms Ivy Lam (second from left) now runs the rehabilitation programmes at Anglican Care Centre (Hougang). PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

She’s been labelled “crazy” and “lazy” and faced such discrimination since 2006 when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and subsequently admitted to the Institute of Mental Health.

Further blows to her self-confidence followed as Ms Ivy Lam, then age 25, realised friends whom she considered close began to stop contacting her, and she lost her job not long after.

However, Ms Lam was thrown a lifeline in 2010, when she was referred to the Anglican Care Centre (ACC) in Simei by her psychiatrist. ACC (Simei) is a psychiatric rehabilitation centre run by Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS), a social service agency (SSA) which is a member of the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

She embarked on her recovery journey there and has since made such long strides that today, she is helping others manage their mental health as a programme assistant at ACC (Hougang).

Ms Lam, 42, credits her stay at ACC (Simei), from 2010 to 2016, which included classes on illness management and recovery, for helping her better understand and deal with her condition. She shares: “I learnt the warning signs of relapse such as intense mood swings, and coping strategies to manage my symptoms. I also learnt to manage my medication and develop a relapse prevention plan in order to recover well. I used to have at least four relapses a year. My condition has greatly improved and I have had fewer relapses since I became a member at ACC (Simei).”

She also underwent employment training there, where she learnt how to hand make stationery, and worked at pushcart and outdoor roadshows as a sales assistant. As she slowly regained her confidence and developed better communication skills, she got a job as a store assistant at SACS’ Social Enterprise’s workshop.

“I made additional earnings to support my living expenses by making jewellery in the centre and selling it at the roadshows or on consignment. I felt affirmed, especially when I received assurance and praise for my skills and talents.”

Empowering others

Encouraged by how she was progressing, Ms Lam attended NCSS’ inaugural Peer Support Specialist (PSS) Programme to be trained with peer support skills to help others on their recovery journey.

After embarking on her recovery journey at ACC (Simei), Ms Lam has since made such long strides that today, she is helping others manage their mental health. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

The PSS Programme was launched in 2016 to enable persons with mental health conditions to share their lived experience with others who are going through the same situation and help them recover. It was funded by grants from Care & Share Movement and BinjaiTree for the first five runs, and the Tote Board Social Service Fund for the subsequent four editions. To date, NCSS has trained 161 certified Peer Support Specialists.

After the programme, she became a full-time staff member with ACC (Hougang) in 2018, and has since been serving as a Programme Assistant. With the peer support skills she learnt from the PSS Programme, she runs the centre’s rehabilitation activities.

Besides helping others manage their mental health, Ms Lam also oversees the centre’s Enterprise Hub, a place where members learn to make handicrafts.

As she continues to support others at ACC (Hougang) with her own personal experiences, she hopes that the wider community can be more understanding towards those with mental health conditions.

She advises: “Be patient and be a good listener. Give them a chance to share their struggles and do not judge. Instead, be empathetic and encourage them to seek help early (if they haven’t yet). If you feel that you are not ready to support them, you can also redirect them to other professional resources.”

How you can help

With SG Cares, a national movement co-led by NCSS and the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, everyone can play a part to support the efforts of SSAs such as ACC (Simei).

Individuals and corporates can volunteer for any cause with SSAs through the SG Cares-appointed Volunteer Centres.

You can also donate through NCSS’ fund-raising platform Community Chest. Its hassle-free monthly giving programme, SHARE, provides a continuous source of funds to empower not only persons with mental health conditions, but also children with special needs and youth at risk, adults with disabilities, and seniors and families in need of assistance.

Says NCSS president Anita Fam: “Just as how the ‘many helping hands’ approach has helped to address social needs in the past, we need to join hands to work as one… and continue to strengthen the social service community to build an inclusive and caring society, where every person can live a life of dignity.”

NCSS has launched Stories from the Heart, a series of 30 heartwarming stories featuring the work of SSAs, volunteers and service users. Visit the Stories from the Heart website to read more.

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