Generation Grit

Stepping back from the brink to help young people

Seven years ago, Mr Delane Lim nearly took his own life. He discovered that he had a serious heart problem, his business went under probe for corruption, and his girlfriend left him.
Mr Delane Lim taking part in team-building activities with trainers of the HappYouth programme. Under this programme conducted by a charity he founded called the Character and Leadership Academy, students are trained to spot signs of depression in th
Mr Delane Lim taking part in team-building activities with trainers of the HappYouth programme. Under this programme conducted by a charity he founded called the Character and Leadership Academy, students are trained to spot signs of depression in their peers and to help them.ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
Mr Delane Lim taking part in team-building activities with trainers of the HappYouth programme. Under this programme conducted by a charity he founded called the Character and Leadership Academy, students are trained to spot signs of depression in th

Delane Lim came very close to killing himself. But a message from a friend pulled him back from the brink, and he now runs a charity reaching out to troubled young people. This is his story, in a series by The Straits Times about inspiring millennials.

Seven years ago, almost to the day, Mr Delane Lim climbed out to a ledge on the 21st storey of Bras Basah Complex.

He was only 25, but his life was unravelling in ways beyond his comprehension.

Months before, he had collapsed at work, the result of a previously undiscovered heart problem, a malfunction that caused his heart to "pump like crazy all the time, even while he was sleeping", his doctor told The Straits Times.

He was told he could die of a heart attack in less than a year if he did not have it operated on, although the procedure itself had a high chance of failure.

What was more, this brush with mortality came in the midst of a stressful corruption probe into the company he had started, Agape Group Holdings.

The firm had provided consultancy services to a secondary school whose principal was being investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. Mr Lim said he was hauled up for questioning as well. During the year-long probe, his business took a nosedive.

But the straw that broke the camel's back was when his girlfriend of two years broke up with him. She did it just before the surgery, which she did not know about as he had told no one, not even his family, because he did not want them to worry.

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The break-up blindsided him.

So, there he was, on Feb 15, 2011, high above the ground in a building near Raffles Hospital, where he had been admitted for the operation. "I was sitting on the ledge and thinking about ending it when my friend WhatsApped me to ask if I was free for coffee. I didn't tell him where I was but I told him I was in pain and needed major surgery," he said.

"He said God wouldn't remove the pain but He would give me the strength to go through it. During our conversation, I calmed down. I had allowed negative thoughts to take over my mind. I realised if I died, people would assume I had bribed the principal. I felt I should continue to fight."

In a better frame of mind, he climbed down off the ledge. The operation went well two days later and his heart condition improved.

Mr Lim said his company was eventually cleared of all suspicion of corruption and business picked up.

After that fateful day, he started a charity called the Character and Leadership Academy, which would go to schools to train students on how to spot signs of depression in their peers and help them.

Since the launch of the academy's HappYouth programme in 2014, it has reached out to more than 16,000 youth, said Mr Lim, who conducts the training himself.

A spokesman for Raffles Institution, one of the schools that have participated in the programme, said its students found the awareness training to be beneficial.

Mr Lim has also visited countries such as Japan, the United States and Britain to learn about suicide prevention. He said: "I always thought that only the weak suffer from depression or think of suicide. I had always thought of myself as strong, but when everything hit me all at once, I was overwhelmed too."

Every crisis offers a chance to grow and to build resilience, said the 32-year-old bachelor, the younger of two children of a taxi driver and a housewife.

Mr Lim's enterprising ways blossomed when he was in primary school, selling cakes and ice cream to his classmates for a small profit. When he was 15, he stopped taking pocket money from his parents to lighten their financial load.

He also became a part-time bowling coach, earning up to $1,000 a month while he was still at Bendemeer Secondary School. But his grades suffered when he skipped class one too many times to go to work. He scored 30 points in the O-level exams, but later managed to earn a Business Administration degree from Curtin University in 2010.

At the age of 20, the Christian began Agape Group Holdings with two friends. The firm provided consultancy services in human resources and also organised camps and leadership development for students.

The first year was tough and he did not take a salary until the business became profitable. In 2016, the firm was wound up amid unfavourable business conditions.

Ever entrepreneurial, Mr Lim set up FutuReady Asia, a business to train youth in Asia to develop leadership skills and other areas of potential. He has about 30 staff in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Mr Lim says his firm currently enjoys a "steady pace of growth" and he earns over $100,000 a year, excluding bonuses.

Ms Malathi Das, president of the Zonta Club of Singapore, a women's group, has worked with Mr Lim to co-organise forums for young people to raise their awareness about violence against women, bullying and mental health issues.

Ms Das, a lawyer, said: "Delane not only overcame the turning point in his life, but also used it to inspire others and do good. It takes a lot of courage to share his vulnerability with the rest of the world. This sharing helps others, as he has been through it himself."

Though Mr Lim is financially comfortable, life is still bittersweet. The pain in his body never leaves him.

Aside from the heart problem, he has a degenerative spine condition for which he has had six operations since the age of 18. They have helped, but not completely. The pain, he said, is so bad at times it is difficult to even move.

But move, and go on, he will.

He said: "After my heart operation, I realised it's not all about making money. Making money is important, but my motivating factor is to change lives. The legacy I want is to provide meaningful jobs and be a good boss."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2018, with the headline 'Stepping back from the brink to help young people'. Print Edition | Subscribe