Mental Disorders in the Family: My Suk Gong and Suk Po (Grand Uncle and Grand Aunty in Chinese dialect)

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Getting to know about mental disorders in the family

One fine day when I got home, I overheard my dad having a conversation with someone over the phone. It sounded like a distressing phone call. He disclosed that he received a phone call from touch community services, a charity organisation that is non-profit that started in 1986, aiming to help people struggling to make ends meet. A social worker had called him to tell him that his uncle was under their care and required relative assistance from him. Here is where the story starts.

My granduncle met his wife, during their Junior College years and fell in love as high school sweethearts.

They bought a flat and had children. For a few years of their lives, they did return home and have been living on the streets of Singapore in their car. According to my grandmother she said that they haven’t been going home for many years, roaming the streets of Singapore and surviving on eating a loaf of bread each.

Why have they not gone home?

One day my dad asked me for help to buy some necessities and deliver it to them. They called my dad earlier to say that they ran out of washing detergent and needed assistance as they had a lot of clothes to wash.

I went to visit my granduncle and my grand aunty at their newly appointed flat where they now reside, that was given to them by the government.

“Girl ah, don’t bother ringing the doorbell they take very long to open the door one.”

The social worker had appointed a set of keys given to my dad as their official caretaker.

He was right, I rang the doorbell and there was no answer to the door. My dad proceeded to open the door with his set of keys. A stench of ammonia greeted us as we stepped into a 450 square foot apartment that was pitch black on a bright sunny afternoon.

The curtains were closed shut, and in the corner of the apartment was my granduncle sitting in his wheelchair staring into the total darkness masked by the withdrawn curtains.

My grand aunty came to greet us at the door. “Who are you? You look familiar have I seen you before?” She asked. I remember the previous Chinese New Year I paid a visit to them and continued the conversation with her trying to refresh her memory. My dad looked at me and shook his head mouthing “She won’t remember one”.

I placed the groceries down on the table and proceeded to explore the house. The toilet was filled with eight buckets of clothes in water, while they owned a washing machine.

I went to my granduncle where I found the source of smell. His pants were soaked in his own urine. My father and I assisted him in cleaning up, my father was of greater help as he spoke in tongues of Hakka to them.

I start to reflect where my parents told me the importance of my mother tongue and also speaking in my dialect. I felt a little helpless as my vocabulary in my mother tongue was limited. “Have you eaten today? Have you taken a shower?” I asked my grand aunty. Her response shook me, she told me that she only showered once a week as she was afraid of feeling cold. I showed her where the water heater was and how to use it. She nodded but I believe her schizophrenia would not be able to comprehend my instructions.

My granduncle had been diagnosed with dementia and depression while my grand aunty has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is characterised as a mental disorder that has traits of disruptions in thought processes, perceptions and emotional responsiveness, and social interactions. Being diagnosed with schizophrenia alters one with their sense of reality. Symptoms include a lack of emotional expression, social withdrawal, hallucinations, delusions, disorganised behaviour, and a lack of motivation. As a married couple they are unable to offer support to each other due to deterioration of their mental health.

The short interaction with them gave me insight to how mental disorders can come about without anticipation.

Many psychiatric disorders are a combination of physical, psychological, genetic and environmental factors.

Taking steps to ensure that I keep my mental health in check and to those that I love around me became more important to me than ever.

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Steps I take to care about my own mental health

Here are a few reminders to myself that I wish to share with anyone reading to help with mental wellness.

  1. Staying connected with family and friends, dropping a text or call to check in with them and let them know that I love them.
  2. Picking up an activity that moves my body. I grew to love walking; all it requires is my pair of feet. Any opportunity I get where I can walk instead of riding on a public transport, I usually take it.
  3. Learning new hobbies. I picked up crocheting over the covid period where I was very socially isolated and with the ease of online shopping (i.e., Shopee) I got to order a bunch of colourful yarns and challenged myself to make new things.
  4. Prioritising whole foods. By whole foods I try my best to not eat processed foods at every meal and try to fresh produce as much as possible.
  5. Having good sleep habits. According to science, we function at our best with seven hours of eye shut. Instead of scrolling on social media to relax and unwind before bed, I learnt to read and avoid blue light before bed which really helped with my late-night sleeping habit.

A Word from A Space Between

Schizophrenia, depression along with other mental disorders are manageable when you start seeking out the right health professionals.
A Space Between provides a client-matching service to help you find a therapist best suited to your needs.
Taking care of your own mental health helps you to help others as well.

Sources

Schizophrenia – IMH | Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.).
https://www.imh.com.sg/Mental-Health-Resources/Conditions-and-Challenges/Pages/Schizophrenia.aspx

Depression – IMH | Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.).
https://www.imh.com.sg/Mental-Health-Resources/Conditions-and-Challenges/Pages/Depression.aspx

Ellis, C. M. (2021). Mental Health. Flickr. shorturl.at/agwO1

’mu:zek, be’auti. (2020). Schizophrenia. Flickr. shorturl.at/fhmn1

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