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By the Spirit: Interview with Lianne Ong

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This month, Equip is focusing on The Gospel and Mental Health and we interview two GBC members who work in mental health on their work and how they draw strength from their faith. In this first interview, we speak with Lianne Ong who is a medical doctor training to specialise in psychiatry.

1. What is your experience on a daily basis encountering mental health challenges in your professional capacity?
I am a medical doctor who is training to specialise in psychiatry. I have worked in both a tertiary psychiatry-only hospital (Institute of Mental Health), as well as Restructured Hospitals (e.g. Changi General Hospital) in Liaison Psychiatry. My work includes inpatient consultations, dealing with high risk (suicidal, distressed, aggressive, sometimes homicidal) patients and families, and clinic work with patients struggling with mood/anxiety/psychosis/impulse control issues. Prior to restrictions on healthcare staff movement, I had the privilege of performing home visits to older clients to bring care to those who cannot come to us in the hospitals. 

Most recently, I have been working in the Child & Adolescent ward at Institute of Mental Health where I work with a multi-disciplinary team to manage our young clients, often meeting their parents, liaising with their teachers and community workers to optimise their short and long term care.

2. How is mental health a concern for the average person who doesn't go to a professional for help?
I truly believe that you cannot enjoy physical health without mental health and growing research supports this connection between our mind and body. I think it is extremely important for us all to develop an understanding of ourselves and those around us, and not get complacent with our own mental wellness or well-being. COVID-19, extraordinary as it has been, is a very good example of how even some of the most successful/powerful people in the world are just as susceptible to trauma, loss, and derailment of life plans as the rest of us.

There may be many who do not need professional help and perhaps just need a listening ear or guided counsel—but there are also many who may sweep things under the rug—this could be a form of psychological defence, or denial. The danger lies in the repeated dismissal of important things in our lives, and often, a dismissal of our own internal processings/thoughts/opinions/emotions. This can be misleading and lead to internal conflict, which breeds all kinds of issues ranging from anxiety, to anger and impulse control issues, to even depression and substance misuse.

Cultivating curiosity and kindness both inwardly and outwardly is crucial to improving our understanding of ourselves as people, and developing better ways of addressing our unseen and at times unmet needs. 

3. Any advice on how we can help folks overcome this stigma of mental health in the church, family and community? 
Ask the hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions—and to those who are equipped to answer them, do so patiently and graciously:

“Why are we afraid of mental health?”
“What about ourselves, are we worried about revealing?”
“How does talking about our feelings (our honest feelings) really make us feel?”

Sit, and listen to one another and remember that it is not our place to pass judgement, but we certainly can show kindness.

4. As believers, how do you draw strength from your faith as a mental health worker?
lianne-ong-pull-quote-1I recite often to myself—“not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit”.

Psychiatry is a quiet, “unsexy” branch of medicine that sees a darker side of humanity than most of medicine. Unsurprisingly, it takes a toll on not just our patients but practitioners alike, and this fatigue can creep in slowly, almost unknowingly, if one is not vigilant. I am reminded by my loved ones, that our strength and perseverance comes not from our own efforts, but often when we surrender and declare our weakness/helplessness to God. This I have found time and time again, freeing, liberating and invigorating.

5. How can we pray for you at this time, especially during COVID-19?
COVID-19 has impacted so many aspects of our society—healthcare, elder care, school systems and of course our social lives. We are beginning to see a rise in the number of people seeking support and treatment for their mental health. While this can be seen as a positive outcome of better mental health literacy, this is also worrying and definitely straining our services. Our hospital is often at full capacity. Personal sacrifices have to be made of course and these can be painful. I am also currently pursuing my post-graduate accreditations and residency training. So prayer for perseverance and positivity would be greatly appreciated.