'Voices' in head urged her to hurt baby
Sufferer of schizoaffective disorder now an advocate for mental health wellness determined to help others through psychoeducation
For two months, she was haunted by three female voices in her head telling her to hurt her four-month-old baby.
One voice would say: "He's just a burden to you."
Another would go: "Why not you hit the baby? Then your life will be back to normal."
That was what Miss Nur Hafizah Kamarulzaman struggled with when she was 19 - an age where many are fretting over their studies.
The single mother was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder - a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Now 23, she helps people who face the same struggles she did and is a part-time programme executive at Club Heal (Hope, Empowerment, Acceptance & Love).
It is a charity that assists and empowers those with mental illness to regain confidence and reintegrate into society.
The mental health wellness advocate will take part in a walk organised by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and other organisations to commemorate World Mental Health Day. (See report on right.)
Despite knowing that tongues may wag, Miss Hafizah decided to share her battle with her inner demons.
Speaking to The New Paper two weeks ago, she said: "For me, whatever happened is already in the past. If we are not willing to share, it means that we're not willing to forget about the past.
"What I'm facing now is not a death sentence. It's a common illness. It's just a matter of how the public sees us."
When she was 18 and five months pregnant, she was diagnosed with depression.
By then, her boyfriend at the time, the father of her baby, had left her.
She declined to dwell on the details of their break-up.
With her baby's father out of the picture and her family angry with her over her pregnancy, Miss Hafizah became suicidal.
She said: "I even beat my stomach to try to take the baby away because I told myself that I didn't want to live anymore."
When her son was four months old, things took a turn for the worse.
"That's when I started hearing all the voices. I even saw a tall lady in my bedroom. The voices asked me to hit my boy, who was crying. The voices told me my baby was to blame for the situation I was in," she said, adding that her family still ignored her after she had given birth.
A few times, Miss Hafizah shouted at the voices in her head to shut up, out of frustration.
The three female voices only grew louder and more distracting.
"Just to shed the voices, I followed what the voices told me. I slapped and pinched him.
"When I realised what had happened, I was shocked. I'm not this kind of person. I really adore kids," she said.
Racked with guilt, she promised herself never to do it again.
Miss Hafizah added: "But each time the voices came, I would do it again. I thought I was a bad mum. No mother would beat her children like this. I felt useless."
The vicious cycle went on for two months before she sought help from her social worker and psychiatrist at the IMH. That was in 2012.
Looking back, it felt like two months too late to seek treatment, she told TNP.
Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, Miss Hafizah was warded at IMH for a week.
Her son was placed at IMH but in a different ward as there was no one at home to care for him.
The incident helped her reconcile with her parents in an unexpected way.
Miss Hafizah's mother Maryati Hassan, 52, told TNP in a separate interview that she cried at learning of her daughter's diagnosis.
Nine years ago, Madam Maryati, a housewife, had herself been diagnosed with the same condition.
Said Madam Maryati: "I felt guilty. How could this have happened? Did I pass it on to her?"
She now attends the daily rehabilitation sessions that Miss Hafizah conducts at Club Heal.
Madam Maryati is proud of what her daughter has achieved.
She said: "She has a pure heart, and loves to help others using her experience. I'm so happy and proud of her."
Miss Hafizah's colleague, Ms Yohana Abdullah, described her as strong yet gentle and down-to-earth and added it showed in her interaction with her rehab session participants.
She is firm and commands attention when she conducts psychoeducation, but never fails to engage in friendly banter with her rehab session participants.
"For me, I just want to be with them throughout their recovery, and prove to them that it's not the end of the world," said Miss Hafizah.
"I always tell them that even if their condition improves by just 0.1 per cent, it really means a lot to me. It makes me determined and motivated to strive together with them for more."
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Institute of Mental Health's Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222
- Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
- Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928
What is schizophrenia?
Often mistaken as a disorder of split personalities, schizophrenia is actually a disorder of fragmented mental processes.
Sufferers may present positive or negative symptoms, or both.
Positive symptoms reflect a distortion or exaggeration of functions that are normally present. This includes hallucinations - voices, smells, or tastes that do not exist - delusions of being persecuted or controlled, and disorganised or bizarre behaviour.
Negative symptoms reflect a deficiency of a mental function that is normally present. The symptoms include social withdrawal, apathy, and lack of motivation and drive.
Although schizophrenia can affect anyone at any age, the onset of this major psychotic condition is usually in adolescence or young adulthood.
If left untreated, patients are at a higher risk of suicide, aggression and drug abuse.
Antipsychotic medication remains the main treatment method to normalise the biochemical imbalances in the brain, which often cause schizophrenia.
The medication can relieve the hallucinations, delusions and thinking problems associated with schizophrenia.
These antipsychotic medicines are also important in reducing or eliminating the chances of a relapse.
Another effective form of treatment is psychotherapy, which helps the patient make sense of his illness and come to terms with it.
Rehabilitation and counselling help the patient function in society.
Social skills training, which can be provided in group, family or individual sessions, helps to build social relationships and independent living skills.
Source: Institute of Mental Health
ABOUT THE WALK
In light of World Mental Health Day on Oct 10, the Institute of Mental Health, Agency for Integrated Care, the Health Promotion Board and 11 other government and mental health voluntary welfare organisations are organising a mass walk along Orchard Road on Oct 8.
The walk will start and end at *Scape in Orchard Road, with a mini carnival from 10am to 3pm.
During the carnival, there will be talks conducted by professionals, people with mental health conditions, and caregivers to provide insights on the various mental health conditions.