'The black dog sank its fangs into me': Actor Adrian Pang opens up about his depression

Actor Adrian Pang has struggled with self-esteem issues throughout his career.
Actor Adrian Pang has struggled with self-esteem issues throughout his career.PHOTO: PROJECT GREEN RIBBON/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - When the pandemic struck last year and decimated the theatre industry, well-known local actor Adrian Pang sank into a pit of darkness and despair.

Having struggled with self-esteem issues throughout his career - rejected by overseas casting directors for not being good-looking enough or caused by taking on a "menagerie of caricatures" under Mediacorp - he found himself falling into depression.

"The 'black dog' sank its fangs into me. I was not just non-essential but non-existent," said Mr Pang, using the metaphor for depression.

The artistic director of local theatre company Pangdemonium told an audience at an online mental health awareness programme on Sunday (Oct 10): "It was hell. That's what happens when you define yourself by your job and lose all sense of yourself without it."

His family supported him through the crisis, but it was only after seeking professional help that he now has the "black dog" largely on a leash.

"Sometimes, love is not enough," he said, quoting a line from playwright Florian Zeller's play The Son, which Pangdemonium staged last year.

"If you have a broken leg, if you have kidney failure, all the love in the world is not going to cure it. Just like any other illness, mental illness requires professional help. There is no quick fix."

The virtual event, called The Unheard: Human Library, was organised by non-profit organisation Project Green Ribbon in commemoration of World Mental Health Day on Sunday.

World Mental Health Day aims to raise awareness of mental health issues, which many in Singapore and overseas have had to deal with amid the pandemic, as safe management restrictions curb social activities and disrupt economic livelihoods.

One in seven people in Singapore will encounter mental health issues, of whom only about half will seek the appropriate mental health support, the organiser said.

During the virtual event, other speakers, including those who have not been clinically diagnosed, talked about how they had felt overwhelmed in various stages of their lives and found ways to cope.

Ms Pat Law, founder of social marketing agency Goodstuph, related how she worked 400 days without a day off and eventually broke down, leading to her booking a week's staycation for herself in Sentosa and going another week without checking her work e-mails.

"You have to let go, release the pedal and go back to gear one," she said. "I learnt that I have a limit."

Others spoke about dealing with the trauma inflicted by demanding and emotionally abusive parents and the dangers of tying one's self-worth to achievements like good school results.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling, who was the guest of honour, spoke about how she felt isolated and awkward during her schooling years.


Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling spoke about how she felt isolated and awkward during her schooling years. PHOTO: PROJECT GREEN RIBBON/FACEBOOK

"I remember feeling tired every day. I did not have any appetite, lost interest in everything and just wanted to sleep," Ms Sun said.

"I only came out of this dreadful period of my life when I entered university. In hindsight, I should have had more open conversations about my struggles with teachers and friends."

President Halimah Yacob, in a Facebook post, said conversations surrounding mental health must lead to concrete steps that improve the situation.

Youth, in particular, need extra support. "At such a young age, it may be difficult for some of them to articulate what they are going through," she said.

The President's Challenge will partner the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to develop a pilot curriculum to better help social service agencies support youth.

IMH will also work with other agencies to offer workshops, webinars and activities till the end of October to reach out to more people and break the stigma surrounding a previously taboo topic.

A total of 18 MPs have committed to a campaign, #452TooMany, to create awareness on mental health through guided discussions with grassroots leaders, community leaders and residents. 

The number refers to the 452 cases of suicides recorded in Singapore last year by the Samaritans of Singapore, a 13 per cent increase since 2019 and the highest since 2012.

Until end-October, Project Green Ribbon is also raising funds for its initiative, The Unheard, which will get more people to share their unique life struggles.

Donations can be made at the Project Green Ribbon website.

  • Helplines

    • National Care Hotline:
    1800-202-6868 (8am - 12am)

    Mental well-being

    • Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline:
    6389-2222 (24 hours)

    • Samaritans of Singapore:
    1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)

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

    • Silver Ribbon Singapore:
    6386-1928

    • Tinkle Friend:
    1800-274-4788 and www.tinklefriend.sg

    • Community Health Assessment Team:
    6493-6500/1 and www.chat.mentalhealth.sg

    Counselling

    • TOUCHline (Counselling):
    1800-377-2252

    • TOUCH Care Line (for seniors, caregivers):
    6804-6555

    • Care Corner Counselling Centre:
    1800-353-5800

    Online resources

    mindline.sg

    My Mental Health

    Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service