Every year, we scope out 18 women who are driven by a desire to bring positive change and have achieved success in their chosen field as part of the Great Women Of Our Time awards. Meet 2019’s Health, Sports & Wellness nominee, Cheryl Tan, Director, Singapore Mental Health Film Festival:
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Meet Cheryl Tan – Great Women Of Our Time 2019 Sports, Health & Wellness Nominee
Cheryl Tan wants people to talk about their mental health. “I remember feeling suicidal from a young age. After some time abroad, I moved back to Singapore in 2014 to start in-depth conversations on trauma and mental health because I felt that there was a strong stigma behind this social issue,” explains the social entrepreneur, who also founded The Breathe Movement.
“There is an urgent need to change the conversation from a negative one to that which allows the individuals from all walks of life to thrive and feel safe and supported.”
She felt that films helped to bridge the communication gap that can exist for people who are suffering from mental health issues and founded Singapore’s inaugural Mental Health Film Festival.
In all, 11 films were screened that tackled topics ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to schizophrenia.
“The turnout this year was actually quite promising. A lot of people are approaching us to thank us. We didn’t expect so much buzz,” she says.
While the arts is one way to get people to talk about mental health, Cheryl’s ultimate goal is to remove the stigma for what she calls a social issue.
“When I was younger, mental health wasn’t a topic widely spoken about or taught in schools. But those suicidal tendencies were real, and I desperately wanted to put an end to the searing pain that was constantly in my mind and body,” she explains.
“In my university years, there were many times when I wanted to climb over the ledge of the balcony of my 10th-floor apartment and disappear into the dark abyss.”
The incident prompted Cheryl to seek help from a psychotherapist. She also started practising yoga as a form of treatment, which led her to start The Breathe Movement in 2014 after she returned to Singapore. It is a social enterprise that runs yoga programmes for those suffering from trauma or mental health issues.
“In 2011, I moved from Vancouver to Toronto, and met my yoga teacher who later became my psychotherapist. He took me under his wing in 2012, and things started shifting within me. I have since grown stronger emotionally and mentally,” says Cheryl.
“Everything is truly a practice, and sometimes we need to forgive ourselves and be compassionate towards self and others when we slip up. I have learned that apologising helps, though it might not work for everyone to receive that note of apology once harm has been done. But that’s their work, and it’s our job to make peace with ourselves so that we can forgive ourselves and learn from our mistakes.”
One of the other important tip she wants people to remember when they’re going through a hard time is surprisingly simple: Ask for help.
“Find a core support group you know you can turn to. It could comprise of family, friends or therapists of all sorts. We need to have a safe space to go back to, people who can support us. I can’t emphasis more on how it takes a community to create shifts within ourselves and others,” she emphasises.
“I’d always been afraid to call for help but I’ve learnt that it’s okay to rely on others for support – but we need to know how and when to ask for it. It’s not about being dependent on others, because all the strongest and successful people in the world always have their own support group. I find it though to thrive when working in silo. The greatest thing in this world is to love and be loved.”
Photos: Vee Chin & Tan Wei Te
Fashion Direction: Aaron Kok
Styling Assistants: Juliet Suen & An Lyn Chee
Hair: Jason Wong/Salon Nu, Grego & Ash Loi/Sonder Salon
Makeup: Keith Bryant Lee, Hongling Lim, Rina Sim, Wee Ming & Jyue Huey (for Shann Sok)
Location: 89NR, The Working Capitol, Botanico at The Garage & The Summerhouse
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