Beneath Julie Tan‘s bright smiles and cheerful demeanour lies “tons of negative and ugly thoughts“.

The local actress opened up about her mental state in a 45-second clip posted on video-sharing service TikTok last Saturday, revealing her history of self-harm and ongoing struggle to love herself.

It took the format of a make-up tutorial video with text overlay.

Tan, 28, is known for starring in several Chinese-language television dramas and movies, most notably as the female lead in the 2013 Singaporean comedy-musical film That Girl In Pinafore.

Her most recent works include television dramas Mister Flower and True Lies.

She told her 97,600 TikTok followers: “Whenever I am feeling depressed, there are voices in my head telling me I deserve to be punished.

“So I would punish myself, I would bite my arms and slap myself. When I was younger, I used to cut myself, but due to work now I can’t afford to have scars.

“It’s been 10 months since I’ve hurt myself, but sometimes the emotions are so overwhelming. During tough times the urge to hurt myself is so strong. I will always tell myself don’t give in to it, I need to be strong. But sometimes I am just tired of being strong.”

She ended the clip by telling those who are struggling that they are “not alone”, and encouraged everyone to be kind to one another.

In an interview with The New Paper, an emotional Tan said the video captured a rare moment of her breaking down, where her “emotions hit and it hurt”.

She added: “I am ready to share and show my vulnerable side to everyone.”

Private messages

The video has garnered more than 4,000 likes and over 500 comments, many of which showed support for Tan.

She also received private messages from people who shared stories of their own struggles, and comments from teens whom she believes are asking for help.

She said: “It’s really awesome to see everyone have such strength from within to carry on, which really motivates me to be a better person.”

According to Tan, her emotional problems originated from her “childhood trauma”, when her mother had difficulties in expressing her emotions appropriately.

Between the age of seven and 12, the pair attended therapy together, but stopped during her teenage years as they both got busier.

When her condition worsened under the high pressure and public scrutiny from being a celebrity, she resumed therapy for a while in her early 20s.

She also received professional help in 2019 from mental health care app Safe Space.

Tan now prefers to turn to her friends for support.

The open and sincere talks she had with her mother at the start of the pandemic also stopped her from self-harming.

Ms Evonne Lek, a systemic psychotherapist and family therapist at Reconnect Psychology & Family Therapy, praised Tan’s bravery and openness and for sending out an “affirming” message.

She told TNP: “We want to change the stigma that the sharing of mental health struggles is weak. In fact, it is incredibly powerful.”

Dr Lek encouraged people to seek professional help if they do not have sources of social support, as “a therapist may be able to guide you through your roller-coaster of emotions and you can experience compassion and kindness for yourself”.

Helplines

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
  • Institute of Mental Health’s crisis helpline: 6389-2222
  • Caregivers’ Association of the Mentally Ill: 6782-9371
  • Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
  • Caregivers Alliance (weekdays, 9am to 6pm): 6460-4400

Text: Hedy Yang/The New Paper