Sunday, 14th July 2024

Sunday, 14th July 2024

“I never felt like I didn’t have enough, or that I was less than anyone”

06 Mar 2024

Shannon Chan is grateful for the financial assistance and school programmes that ensured she could enjoy school without worry. But when her family’s struggles mounted, she succumbed to personal challenges. Find out how this gutsy girl, now a Psychology undergrad, pulled through with the help of her teachers and a community mental health service. Her message? Don’t be afraid to seek help.

By Lee Qing Ping

Singapore Management University undergrad Shannon Chan has been a beneficiary of the Financial Assistance Scheme and various school bursaries from her days in Woodlands Ring Primary till when she graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP).

The schemes covered her for her essentials, while her learning needs and activities were covered by day-to-day life at school.

She’d attend supplementary classes for her areas of her studies she was weak at, and her CCAs filled her time well.

She grooved to hip-hop in her Modern Dance CCA at primary school. At secondary school, she picked up lifesaving skills through Red Cross Youth CCA, and in poly, grew public-speaking chops as President of the Civil Defence Lionhearters Club.

“I never felt like I didn’t have enough, or that I was less than anyone. If I wanted something, I worked hard to get it,” she says.

I never felt like I didn’t have enough, or that I was less than anyone_2Shannon (back row, middle, with her friends at Admiralty Secondary School) fought hard to cope through her teen years but didn’t always manage to keep the stress at bay.

An observant teacher, a free mental health service

Shannon came from a happy home hit by hard times. During her teens, there were periods when she struggled with juggling schoolwork, CCA, and taking on part-time work to help with the family’s expenses.

Soon it became a habit for Shannon to tuck her own feelings aside.

Being of help to her parents, who faced personal and financial issues, “made me very independent. Even if I faced something I couldn’t solve myself, I insisted on doing it alone. I didn’t know how to ask for help”.

Shannon kept up the front till one morning in 2019 – she was Secondary 4 and preparing for the O Level – when she couldn’t bring herself to join her friends for recess. Instead, she hung around her classroom, pacing back and forth. Her then Chemistry teacher, Mrs Karen Yap, saw something was up.

“Are you okay?” Mrs Yap worriedly asked.

Shannon burst into tears. “I couldn’t even answer her, I just cried and cried,” recounts Shannon. “That was the first time anyone had ever asked if I was okay.”

Mrs Yap later spoke privately with Shannon’s form teacher, Ms Diyanah Binte Mohamad Yunos, so she could help follow up.

“During the form class free period, Ms Diyanah walked to my desk and asked to speak outside,” explains Shannon. “She asked if I’d been struggling with anything, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk at all.”

Still, Ms Diyanah’s concern got Shannon thinking: “Maybe I do need help.”

It prompted her to do some searching online, and concluded: “Dang, I really do need help.”

Through her research, she found CHAT, the Centre of Excellence for Youth Mental Health, a subsidiary of the Institute of Mental Health. CHAT supports youths with mental health struggles through outreach and assessment services, functioning as a one-stop centre for mental health resources.

“CHAT has a free texting service on their website which I used to talk to their staff, which made it a lot less intimidating,” says Shannon. Eventually, she arranged to meet the counsellor in real life, at CHAT’s office in SCAPE.

Through the counselling sessions, also complimentary, she better understood the pathology behind her eating disorder and depression, and could take steps to manage them better. “They also advised me to talk to my friends, so I did. And it really helped.”

Having community support around her did wonders – Shannon was better able to focus on her O-level exams… and aced them.

_never felt like I didn’t have enough, or that I was less than anyone_3Shannon and her NYP nursing classmates. She made it through her course!

She thrived in nursing then discovered her true interest

Thanks to her scores and MOE’s Higher Education Bursary, Shannon got a step closer to realising her childhood dream of becoming a nurse.

She enrolled at NYP’s Nursing course, and every semester without fail, she was in the top 15% of her cohort. And for her final internship at the end of her course, she earned an ‘A’ – the perfect way to close this chapter of her education.

“Good time management is very important – it’s not easy but it’s possible, even with juggling part-time jobs, studying, CCA, family, friends,” says Shannon.

Amid her academic triumphs, problems on the homefront resurfaced: her father lost his job. To help with her school fees, she tapped on yet another bursary, the Higher Education bursary.

And to chip in with extra cash, Shannon would work long shifts as a retail assistant on weekends and during her school holidays. She’d pick up extra shifts as a waitress too.

Thankfully, things started looking up after her father found work and she could focus on completing her diploma.

I never felt like I didn’t have enough, or that I was less than anyone_4Shannon and her parents went through some tough times but have bounced back.

I never felt like I didn’t have enough, or that I was less than anyone_5 (1)

“Financial support is readily available, and now, mental health resources are even more accessible. Talk to your form teacher or school counsellor, they can direct you to the help you need.”

’Don’t be afraid to seek help’

After some soul-searching, Shannon realised what she really enjoyed about nursing were the interactions with patients, and being able to provide social and psychological support to them.

“I didn’t like the medical parts, doing injections and all. But I enjoyed learning about cognitive functions and talking to patients,” she elaborates.

So she decided to make the switch – today, she is pursuing a Psychology major through the Social Science programme at the Singapore Management University.

After the ups and downs she has been through to get where she is today, what advice does she have for students facing similar challenges? “Manage your time well – that’s definitely one resource you have,” she says, advising students to not waste too much time on social media.

“Financial support is readily available, and now, mental health resources are even more accessible,” says Shannon to other students who may be in similar straits as she was. “Talk to your form teacher or school counsellor, they can direct you to the help you need.” 

“Dare to rely on those you love, because they care about you. You’re not alone in this world.”


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