SINGAPORE – Their world fell apart when their only son lost his battle with manic depression and committed suicide six years ago.
Their son Lawrance started suffering from bouts of depression after he turned 18.
He recovered, but after a number of years, the illness returned. He took his own life at age 26, just a few months before he was to graduate with honours in psychology from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.
Mrs Chow Yee Ling said: “Losing a child is so much pain, no one can ever imagine.”
But she and her husband, Mr Chow Yen-Lu, who are both in their late 50s, turned their grief around to create hope for others.
In October 2012, they set up OverTheRainbow.sg (OTR), a non-profit foundation that aims to promote youth mental wellness.
Mr Chow said: “Throughout the past two years, we’ve probably reached out to thousands of people. When we hear of someone getting better or benefitting through anything we do, that’s our ultimate reward.”
To run the foundation, Mr Chow gave up the business he started as an IT entrepreneur.
While Mrs Chow is still a Mandarin tutor and an artist, she has scaled back on those commitments.
Now, the couple run the foundation on donations from friends, family and other organisations. They live off their savings.
They spent more than a year researching and planning for the launch.
Mr Chow said: “We spoke to many health professionals, including people from the Institute of Mental Health and Singapore Association for Mental Health.
“We also had to carry out a lot of online research, to figure out what Singapore is lacking.”
OTR organises talks and workshops to promote mental wellness and holistic well-being, with topics including positive psychology, meditation and yoga.
These talks are conducted by volunteers who are experts in their field.
Mr Chow said: “We are very privileged and grateful to have a network of health-care professionals who willingly give their time to our cause.”
The couple are constantly thinking of new ways to engage their audience. Last month, OTR conducted its first drawing workshop.
The Chows also aim to dispel the stigma surrounding people with mental illnesses.
Mr Chow said: “People start asking, ‘What’s wrong? Is he crazy? Is he possessed?’. The situation is improving, but there’s still a big stigma. A lot of work has to be done to change this.”
Having experienced the loss of their child, the Chows share their story to help parents who are going through the same grief.
Mrs Chow said: “It’s only people like us who are able to understand, as we went through it ourselves.”
Letting out feelings with art
OverTheRainbow.sg held its first drawing workshop last month.
The Draw-with-Me Creative Workshop at *Scape was conducted by Mrs Chow Yee Ling and another volunteer.
Mrs Chow, who has an associate’s degree in Western Art from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, said: “There are many ways to express your emotions. Not all of us might be able to talk about it, so drawing is a different way to let your feelings out.”
Her husband, Mr Chow Yen-Lu, said: “We want to provide a safe and supportive place where people can come and release their emotions, by putting what’s on their mind on a piece of paper.”
Eight participants attended the workshop and Mr Chow said he was “very satisfied” with the turnout as 13 people had registered for it.
He said: “Participants said they wanted to do more, so we will be holding another workshop at the end of this month.”
Details will be released on the Facebook page (facebook.com/OverTheRainbow.sg).
Mrs Chow decided to hold a drawing workshop after attending a course conducted by Ms Joanna Tan, an art therapist in private practice.
Ms Tan, who has been practising for 11 years, said it is important to note that art workshops are not the same as art therapy sessions.
She said: “Art is therapeutic, but art therapy is a professional method of treatment which requires proper qualification.”
According to a spokesman for the Singapore Association for Mental Health, an art therapist must have a minimum qualification of a master’s degree in art therapy.
Said the spokesman: “The art therapist combines both therapy and art forms to assess presenting issues of the client, then consequently develop a personalised intervention plan for implementation.”
Ms Tan added: “If participants feel they are emoting something overwhelming during the workshop, they should seek a qualified art therapist to process those emotions.”
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