"I have bipolar disorder and I’ve gone through struggles before I got diagnosed. I got arrested for attempting suicide and lost two friends to suicide. Surviving that horrible, challenging period of my life helped me learn how to manage and thrive with it. My personal journey has given me a lot of learnings and insights around mental health, from the stigma that we face to just a lot of things that we don't know about. It gave me that motivation to share what I've learned with more people so they can seek mental health support before it's too late." - Sabrina Ooi
“It's not a secret that whatever support system entrepreneurs have, it's still really hard. The way I manage it is to lead with compassion, especially for myself. On a day-to-day basis, I try to make sure that I schedule regular breaks. I have to be very clear about what my self-care and support systems look like when things get tough. Practicing self-compassion and going for therapy or coaching when things don't go right are also important.” - Sabrina Ooi
Sabrina Ooi is the cofounder & CEO of Calm Collective Asia, an organization with the mission to normalize mental health conversations in Asia. She is a mental health expert by experience, having achieved personal recovery and well-being through her journey with bipolar disorder. Through her work with Calm Collective, she has consulted for and created global mental health programs for brands like Spotify, The Body Shop, and Standard Chartered. She has been featured in various publications and was named a Gen.T Honouree in 2021. Sabrina has worked in the software and marketing industries and was a professional DJ in top nightlife establishments.
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Jeremy Au: (02:20)
Hey, Sabrina, really excited to have you on the show to discuss mental health and more importantly about building a company that's solving this issue. Please introduce yourself.
Sabrina Ooi: (02:30)
So I'm Sabrina. I am the CEO and cofounder of Calm Collective Asia, where we are normalizing mental health conversations in Asia. So what we do is that we are working with a community where we educate the community at large around mental health. We also have peer support programs as well as provide training for facilitators who would like to support their own communities.
We are also in the corporate space where we've brought these programs and trainings into companies like Spotify, the Body Shop, typically MNCs right now. So we are also normalizing conversations around mental health at work. So that's what we do. And besides about me before I started Calm Collective in 2020, I was also in the software industry, started some startups and was also a marketer and DJ, professional DJ.
Jeremy Au: (03:20)
How did you get engaged and be interested in mental health and wellness as a category and topic?
Sabrina Ooi: (03:27)
This whole interest in mental health came from my own personal journey. So I am someone who has bipolar disorder, so kind of going through that journey of struggling before I got diagnosed being arrested for a suicide attempt along the way, and also actually losing two friends to suicide. And finally coming out of that like just survival mode and just horrible, challenging period of my life and learning how to manage and thrive with it. I think that my personal journey has given me a lot of learnings and insights around mental health from the stigma that we face to just a lot of things that we don't know about mental health. So my personal journey, as well as the learnings gave me that motivation to bring what I've learned to more people so that more people can seek help for their mental health before it's too late.
Jeremy Au: (4:20)
I mean, I think people today are pretty aware of what depression is like, right? People call it grieving or really sad, can't get out of bed. I think that's relatively clear about bipolar. It's newer in the awareness in Southeast Asia, could you share a little bit more about what it's like to live with bipolar.
Sabrina Ooi: (04:36)
Yeah, sure. So bipolar disorder, I think it's been there forever. I'm not sure, I haven't lived forever, so I don't know. I think the starting point to understanding bipolar, what bipolar disorder is, is that bipolar can look quite different for everyone, right? So anxiety, and depression, can also manifest differently for each person going through it.
So for me, my bipolar disorder looks like well, okay, so maybe just starting with what bipolar disorder is about. So, bipolar disorder is basically manic depression. That was the phrase that they used to use. And if you think about depression as a unipolar, depression or one pole. Bipolar means that there's some of that as well the depression, but there's also the highest of mania. And what mania can look like can at least for me, kind of showed itself on nights when I did not get any sleep. I would be very excited. I would start 10, or 20 new projects and probably not finish any of them. I would also be very sociable and outgoing. I'll be the life of the party. So mania is quite interesting because when you're there, you can feel very energetic and sociable. But at the same time, you can be very irritable, and quick to piss people off. You can be a total asshole as well. And mania can have varying degrees of what that looks like for the individual. But that was what it was like for me. I would have like two hours of sleep a night and I would just get very creative and start so many things. So you get some of that mania or hypomania in its lesser form.
And then depression is also there. So for me, my depressive episodes used to be like two to four months ago. These days with medication, it's very different. It's a lot more muted, I would say. So I still have those bursts of energy. My medication brings that mood down. I'm on a mood stabilizer and once in a while, I can feel depressed. But I think at this point living with bipolar disorder is a lot more manageable. I've got a lot more support systems to help me take care of myself better.
Jeremy Au: (06:47)
I was listening to Burn Rate by Andy Dunn, which is the CEO of Bonobos, and he was talking about how he was struggling with his initial potential diagnosis of bipolar disorder, how he rejected it, how he buried it, and how he eventually caused him to land up in jail, and crashing his company’s social media reputation.
Sabrina Ooi: (07:10)
Ah, yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Jeremy Au: (07:11)
He assaulted random people in the street.
Jeremy Au: (07:18)
And it was just kind of interesting and he was like describing how it was like a great founder disease to have because whenever he had mania he was like crushing it in life, right?
Sabrina Ooi: (07:26)
Yeah. I'm the best person in the world to solve this difficult problem.
Jeremy Au: (07:30)
Yeah, exactly what he was saying was that it was really good.
Sabrina Ooi: (07:31)
Yeah, like I'm the chosen one.
Jeremy Au: (07:31)
Yeah, mania because it helped him never take no for an answer. As he said, hustle hard, push harder.
Sabrina Ooi: (07:39)
It's interesting, right? Because like all these characteristics of mania are characteristics that you would want the ideal entrepreneur to have, but taken to the extreme, it can be extremely unsustainable as well. I talked to someone who had Bipolar I, Andy Dunn, right? And that's characterized by higher manias.
One of the things I found out was that a lot of people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, especially Bipolar I, end up in jail a lot. They end up as entrepreneurs, they're a lot more risk-taking. So yeah, a lot of the time, it's a very difficult illness to diagnose. So initially I was misdiagnosed with only depression because why would I bring myself to a psychiatrist when I'm high, I'm perfect, I'm fine.
Jeremy Au: (08:24)
What was it like getting diagnosed and what brought you there? What were the dynamics?
Sabrina Ooi: (08:30)
So I was first diagnosed with major depression. I went to the psychiatrist twice while I was depressed because I was at that point suicidal. I couldn't get out of bed. It was just, I couldn't function, right? So obviously there's something wrong with me.
So after a couple of rounds of major depression, I actually realized looking back that every time I had a depression or depressive phase, I would go into high, high. The lower I went the higher I would go after that. And yeah, I just noticed that it was, something was off. It didn't seem quite right to pick up like that just after a depressive episode. So then I did some Googling, so thanks Google. Now I could probably rely on ChatGPT or something, but basically, I discovered that there was a thing called bipolar disorder and I brought this to my psychiatrist, so I charted my mood ups and downs and I just said, hey doc, am I bipolar? Do I have bipolar? And even at that point, the doctor was still unsure about diagnosing me because he never saw me that high, right? He never saw me in a manic state. So obviously, I wouldn't go see him like that.
What happened after I did my homework and presented like this whole chart was that he said, okay, let's try putting you on mood stabilizers. Cause yeah, it does seem that, based on the characteristics that you share or the behaviours that you share, it sounds like it could be bipolar disorder. So after giving me the mood stabilizers, we actually saw that my mood stabilized or evened out after every depressive phase. So yeah, that was it.
Jeremy Au: (10:05)
I think that's interesting because I'm wondering does it interact with your job as a DJ? I mean, how did that interact with that lifestyle? When I think of a DJ, I think about a super popular person, also popping bottles. Everyone's life of the party. And then how does that interact?
Sabrina Ooi: (10:24)
Yeah. Yeah. As you're saying that, I'm like, wow, PTSD, oh my god. Yeah. Popping bottles and spilling are all such waste. So DJing was not conducive to bipolar. And I think the DJing, the late nights, the exposure to extreme behaviours from the people around me definitely fueled the mania I would experience as well as it also fueled the depression because when I was depressed I would be like, what's this hall? What's all of this for? Why are people popping bottles around me? Are they really happy? I'd be asking all these existential questions, what's the point of all of this?
The DJing definitely contributed to making my mental health worse to the extent that the environment around me was not helpful. The late nights I was sleeping at I don't know, five, six AM whenever I DJed. And sleep is an unknown factor to influence our mental well-being. Now, I get eight hours of sleep routinely every night, completely different. And the environment playing in nightclubs was not great because I'm surrounded by maybe other people who also have mania. You're just going to add fuel to the fire. It's just not great. But DJing itself, the act of DJing, I think it's fine. I still do that once in a while when it's an early set or for myself, but I would say nightlife was not very conducive to mental health.
Jeremy Au: (11:51)
Yeah, it makes sense. And now you only accept gigs before midnight.
Sabrina Ooi: (11:54)
It's true. It's actually my bed calling.
Jeremy Au: (11:56)
So what's interesting is one thing obviously to manage your bipolar disorder after being diagnosed and obviously adjusting a lifestyle to have that better set of conditions. And then what's interesting is that, there you are also working in the startup industry as well, right?
And at some point you say, I wanted to make this Calm Collective, right? You want to work on it. You want to found something to tackle this issue. So what was that transition point from living with it yourself to building it for others.
Sabrina Ooi: (12:28)
So I think the starting point for me or what kind of seeded this idea behind Calm Collective was, it's not just for myself, but also the fact that I lost two close friends to suicide. Of course after they killed themselves, I asked myself like, what could I have done to prevent this? And it all went back to stigma and them not feeling comfortable enough to seek help, to talk about it. I think since they passed away in 2015 and 2017, I've had this motivation, just sitting there behind the scenes. But that gave me, I guess, the impetus to start Calm Collective. The short story was during the lockdown in 2020, mental health services in Singapore were considered non-essential. So that just made me very pissed off because I couldn't see my therapist, I couldn't see my psychiatrist or not supposed to. So at that point, I knew how the lockdown was going to affect me.
And you know what, more other people were struggling even more. Starting Calm Collective was something I did on the side of my job back then. As say I was a Customer Success Manager for a software startup, so I could work from home. Obviously I had more time, I could work during my lunch breaks after work.
So I think the combination of just being pissed off and having more time allowed us to give birth to Calm Collective. But of course, I guess making the move to, I guess, a full-time founder was really because of a couple of other factors. So the move from Calm Collective as a side project to full-time founder was due to two factors. One, we won a grant from the National Youth Council, and also the UNDP. So the grant actually gave us some seed, well, not really seed, right? It gave us some money to help cover my cost if I were to go into doing this full-time.
And then the second factor was that at that point, my boyfriend, my partner, he was actually being sent to Thailand to work. So he asked me, hey, why don't you come along? I said, oh, okay. That's kind of scary, but sure. So I think the opportunity that I saw there was that by moving to Thailand, it would actually dramatically reduce my cost of living in Singapore.
I was renting, being in Thailand meant I wasn't paying rent. I could live on a lot less. And that funding from that grant actually allowed me to give myself some kind of pocket money while I was trying to figure out what the heck Calm Collective was. I think just having that six months to cover myself as a founder or to figure out our business model actually provided that safety net to doing it full-time. And during that six months, we figured it out.
Jeremy Au: (15:15)
What is it to figure it out? Because there's so much mental health resources, right? So maybe folks are aware of depression, people notice there's therapy these days, people on YouTube and TikTok talking about it. So how did you go about thinking through what you wanted built?
Sabrina Ooi: (15:32)
It's really interesting because from the outset I wasn't sure that I was going to be building a business. A lot of the first year of Calm Collective was very organic, right? So I think having that, having my day job, actually everything. So the first business opportunity that came along was actually in the form of event sponsorships.
So we were creating webinars before it became boring. During the lockdown we started off doing webinars on a regular basis to educate the community and to share practical strategies around coping in the lockdown. And then we actually had our first event sponsorship come along, and that was when I was like, have we had a minute? Can we make money from this? That kept coming. We just had other companies and also government organizations notice our work. And they came forward and said, hey, mental health is really important right now. We wanna do something about this. Can we sponsor something? Can you do something with us?
That was the first version of our business model to be an event or content creation, agency of sorts, whatever you wanna call it. And we just created these webinars and created these illustrations of socials and things like that where they were co-branded. And then during the six months where I was, I left my job and try and was trying this thing full-time. The second business model came up, a second revenue stream came up whereby companies started taking notice as well, and they came forward and they said, hey, can you organize a talk or a training around mental health for our team members? So this would normally come from like HR or employee engagement. So that's kinda actually where we are right now. We organically found our business model just by serving this group of working adults who, just kind of share Calm Collective through word of mouth.
Jeremy Au: (17:21)
What's it like to take something that's like your own personal health condition to obviously being part of the conversation of your friends and network of two suicides and dealing with the grief of that to making that business.
Sabrina Ooi: (17:36)
I think the first thing that comes to mind as you asked that question is that initially it was very hard to not take things personally whenever I encountered someone who just didn't get it right. So there were conversations we had with HR folks and whatnot that came forward and said, hey mental health is important right now, but frankly, I'm just doing this cause my boss asked me to do it.
And then I would ask them, hey, so what are your thoughts on mental health? And they would just basically say that it's not important right now because, well either, because it's not really a thing. You can just sweep it off it's just a young person's thing. I would hear things like that. I think initially it was hard not to get angry or pissed off about it. Cause I'm like you know what can happen? You can die. That would come up in my head so strongly. Yeah. If you don't care about it what's at stake? Your life, things like that. As I went on, as I think months after that, I think I've just learned to not take things too personally and recognize that those kind of comments just fortify my mission even more. Just, yeah, it gives me more reason to do this well, to destigmatize, to educate, to train people, to understand and embrace mental health the way.
Jeremy Au: (18:57)
Is the making it less fun slash interesting because, yeah, I think I was got the advice right, which is never make your hobby into a job because it's how you crush your hobby. I was just kind of curious, are there any interactions like that where it's like, it is way too much or way too heavy.
Sabrina Ooi: (19:18)
Yes and no. So I think as you say that, it really brings to mind how I started feeling about DJing before. So I've definitely experienced that. I was like, oh, shit, I used to enjoy this and now I'm just doing it for work. Boring. Not fun anymore. On the mental health side of things, it's a little bit different.
So what I found is that with mental health, it's really interesting because the more I dig into it, the more I learn how to take care of myself as well. So every talk I host, every, I don't know, every talk I give, every training I attend, I'm just learning more and more and this just gives me more and more tools and skillsets to take care of myself better. So it's something I see really contributes to my own personal growth as well, as I interact with more people or as I talk about it, even more, even with you. But where it becomes not so fun is that because, mental health, I find that it's a very tricky topic because it's very sensitive.
Talking about mental health also means that we need, like myself, as a professional now in this space, it gives me a lot more pressure to walk the talk. So when I'm talking about normalizing mental health conversations, I'm talking about taking care of my mental health or one's mental health. It sometimes gives me a bit more pressure to take care of myself. So when I myself feel a bit overwhelmed or burnt out or stressed, I actually beat myself up a little bit because I'm like, oh, Sabrina, you talk about mental health so much, you should know better. So there are times where I find my mental health suffering for whether it's work reasons or personal reasons and that's where it gets a bit hard because I realize that I hold myself to a very high standard. It's quite public in nature to start a mental health company. So I think that's where it gets a little bit less fun.
Jeremy Au: (21:18)
Yeah, I guess when you're doing customer success, I guess for a B2B SaaS company if you have to take a break and you're not working on it, you don't feel like you're letting someone down. You're just saying, okay the ticket is, goes on for one additional day, but when you're feeling like you're serving, sick people who are facing this mental health issue, I can feel like it's hard to knock off. And I think it definitely reminds me of Ikigai, right?
Which is about you're trying to do something that you enjoy, but also something that the world values and something that you're good at. And I think one realization I had is that very concentric circle overlap Venn diagram into a very, very static spot.
And I realize over time it's people kind of multiple sweet spots, right? Maybe you can do something for the money and that you're good at and maybe that's something else that you really enjoy. And you can do two things, right? Or that spot also moves over time, right?
Why you start to do something can be very different from why you continue doing it. So I'm just curious because now you've done this almost for three years now, right? And obviously you shared about why you started Calm Collective, because of that passion and that interest. But why is it that you continue doing Calm Collective at a three-year mark.
Sabrina Ooi: (22:22)
Personally because I enjoy it. And I think I would probably challenge that idea of enjoyment, I actually find that with enjoyment also comes a bit of suffering and being able to get through the challenge of it also gives you some enjoyment or some level of satisfaction.
So I think what keeps me going right now with Calm Collective is that there's a few things. I think part of it is the subject matter of mental health. The more I dig into it, the more there is to learn. I'm still learning. There's lots to learn, and I think as the founder or as a so-called boss I think the learning potential is just unlimited.
Another part of it is I think the entrepreneurship journey has just been really interesting for me. When I'm working for someone, the parameters are usually a lot more defined. But as an entrepreneur, I am putting myself in a situation where I have to really navigate uncertainty. I have to navigate a lot of things I never thought I would've had to bother about, like cash flows, people management, learning how to manage our volunteer team, working on partnerships with the government, other corporates, other nonprofits. So I think that part of it keeps me going because it's intellectually very stimulating.
Jeremy Au: (23:45)
What are a myth or misconceptions about building a mental wellness business?
Sabrina Ooi: (23:55)
I think there are two parts to it, right? So on the mental health side and also the business side, but a mental wellness or mental health business, I think one of the misconceptions or I'm not sure if it's a misconception, but one of the things that people may not think about when they're building a company within the mental health space is that, who's going to pay for it? A lot of the time, health in general is seen as a public good. We are very used to having the government pay for our physical health needs or at least having that option and for us being able to claim from insurance providers, right? But in this part of the world, mental health is still underfunded from the public perspective as well as both public and private perspectives. So one of the big challenges in building a mental health business is that, where is the funding going to come from? A lot of the time not just with us, but with other peers in the mental health space. A lot of the funding has had to come from corporates, from big companies who already have that mindset towards embracing mental health and also putting the money behind it. So yeah, that's one. So I guess I think one has to start from whether you're building a business at serves B2C or B2B. On the B2C side, I've seen that a lot of business models don't really work yet. A lot of the time, the B2C stuff has had to become B2B in order to actually make money. Because there are a lot of free apps out there, for example, that serve B2C. Insight Timer is an amazing one that is free that I use, that's actually really, really well designed. It's hard to make money on the B2C side, and if you are doing B2C then funding has to probably come from the government or someone with very deep pockets maybe foundations and stuff like that.
On the B2B side, the misconceptions would be, you might build something, but who are you going to sell it to? So as I mentioned, what I've seen is that usually it's the big MNCs, not all big MNCs. The ones who are more forward thinking that are confident enough to put that money behind it and see the point of mental health and have a champion internally. So I think the misconception there is HR leaders or senior leaders in big companies are ready to put their money behind mental health. It's not something that's there yet.
Jeremy Au: (26:28)
And what would you say has been a brave chapter in your life?
Sabrina Ooi: (26:35)
I'm in my brave chapter right now. I'm living it. So depends on the book you're reading. The chapter could be shorter, long, but I think one of the brave chapters I face is really to make that leap going from being employed to doing this full-time. So doing Calm Collective full-time, and then now employing people.
Jeremy Au: (26:57)
Why is it brave? People build businesses all the time, hire people all the time, and you are a part the team, so why is that brave to you?
Sabrina Ooi: (27:04)
I think the personal significance of that, in making those moves from going full-time to now building the team, it basically meant that I was taking on more responsibility and typically with more responsibility, that means also more stress and with some and I guess coming from a place where I had to actually minimize my stress especially with managing bipolar disorder. That was definitely a big move for me because it meant that I was testing my own threshold to manage stress and also giving myself the opportunity to make an impact beyond my own life. So, yeah, I think it's that combination of challenging myself and also bringing that impact to more people.
Jeremy Au: (27:56)
I mean, actually that's true, right? Because by actually choosing to build something, you're taking on more stress, right? More fear, more uncertainty, more longer days, right? And it never stops. And then you have to take care of people, employees, contractors, partnerships, all these stuff, right?
So, how do you manage, I guess. How do you handle it all? Because, I mean, everybody knows that being a founder is tough, right? Everybody knows that being a founder is stressful and everybody knows that being a founder is no guarantee of success. And you know that you have this, death star vulnerability, I guess. So how do you managed that psychology?
Sabrina Ooi: (28:32)
What's interesting is that the past, since I started doing this, a lot of entrepreneurs have come forward and said, hey, Sabrina, how do you manage? I'm struggling too. And it's, yeah. It's not a secret that entrepreneurs, whatever support system you have, it's still, it's really hard. I guess the way that I manage it, I really had to lead with compassion, especially for myself. Yeah, I think I've just had to make sure that I could, I need to make sure that I'm kind to myself, especially when things don't go our way. On a day-to-day basis, what I do is that, I try to make sure that I schedule regular breaks. Like breaks can be, in the format of just a few minutes going for a short walk or meditating, showering, I think just being very clear about what my self-care systems look like as well as support systems when the going gets tough has been very important for me.
So one of the things that I have done for myself is that I built out a whole travel board to remind myself that, okay, Sabrina, these are the things that you can do when you have high energy. Go for a run or whatever versus what can you do when you have low energy. These are the people that you can talk to and rant to. These are things that can make me happier, giving myself a McDonald's treat once in a while, but not every day. So things like that. I think just being very clear about what my support systems are and what I can do when I'm facing different types of challenges or when I have different energy levels, has been very helpful in managing my mental health on a day-to-day basis. Practicing self-compassion when things don't go right. I'm just saying that Sabrina, it's okay. Speaking to myself as I would to a friend has been very important. I think as an entrepreneur or as a person who's like leading this thing, this Calm Collective thing, I feel that a lot of the time that when things don't go the right way, it's my fault, when actually maybe it's not right. So yeah, just being able to get that perspective once in a while helps a lot. And also therapy. I go for therapy, I go for coaching, which also helps kind of reset.
Jeremy Au: (30:40)
It is a fair point. Would you say that lots of founders actually talk to you and say, hey, they're handling their stress. So what advice would you give to founders who are stressed out? And they should be stressed out, right? The odd say is one in 40. You think it's, one in two chance. You're dealing with the stress of all these different things and carry out bad news. So how would you advise founders to handle that stress?
Sabrina Ooi: (31:03)
I think what helps a lot is to have trusted people that you can speak to about it. Just being able to recognize that you're not alone in this is very important. That can look different for every person. So maybe it's about talking to your partner, co-founder. It could be someone you can talk to who's your advisor or mentor. It could be a therapist or a coach. Could be some friends. But I think what's very important is to be able to proactively seek out people that you can speak to whom you feel safe enough, with whom you feel can help you find that clarity amidst that chaos. So I think it's really important to continue to seek those people out if you don't have one or two people to talk to.
Jeremy Au: (31:52)
Thank you so much for sharing. And could you share what was the, I guess, worst moment of your life versus the best moment of your life.
Sabrina Ooi: (32:01)
Well, I think the worst moment of my life definitely was getting arrested for that suicide attempt. It was very, very embarrassing. I was overcome by shame. I think shame was like the biggest one. Being arrested, missing my DJ gig that night, and missing a work trip as well.
That really felt horrible. And also having, I think friends not understand what really happened, getting judged for it is just incredibly isolating. So I think the combination of shame and isolation is something that was one of my worst moments. In contrast, no, there are many best moments. I tend not to get too attached to best moments, cause I'm always slightly pessimistic while also being a bit optimistic. So I guess best moments is frankly, just being able to live every new day and recognize that. So there's this quote or this line from this John Mayer song, called 'No Such Thing'. And that line is, I'm invincible as long as I'm alive. So yeah, for me, best moments. The best is yet to be also, if you're an ACS person, I'm not, but, I find it hard to answer. I think there have been some best moments and some of the ones that have happened recently include signing on Spotify as a global partner.
We also recently got a grant from the National Youth Fund to scale up our peer support program so that we can train more people to take care of themselves and each other better. And yeah, and building the team of just really passionate people to help further this cause has just been very meaningful. So, lots of best moments and I think there should be more to come as long as I stay alive.
Jeremy Au: (33:51)
Could you share a little bit more about what was it like to be arrested for suicide?
Sabrina Ooi: (33:54)
So being arrested for suicide, so this is, so, okay. Right now, as of, I think 2018, sometime, suicide and attempted suicide was no longer a crime in Singapore.
But back then in when was that? 2016? It was. What that was like, was that when I got off the ledge, so I was on the 20th floor of a building and this film crew actually saw me up there for a long time. I don't know how long cause I didn't bring my phone with me. But basically they called the police and then they came.
And when they came I was like, I don't want to be killing myself like this. It's very embarrassing. So when I got off the ledge, the police officer says, were you trying to kill yourself? Are you depressed? I said, yeah. Then the guy said well sorry, now that you've said that you're depressed and you wanted to kill yourself, we have to arrest you.
So that was just really unfortunate cause I didn't realize that was a crime back then. If I knew, I would've said something else. Just pondering life up there. So then they threw me into the cell. I mean, they didn't throw me, but basically I had a little tour of the police station, went to a cell where there was no door for the toilet and there was no toilet paper.
So I just had to pee messy. And then I got brought into another cell where there were lots of illegal upstairs from the karaoke bars nearby. Made some friends there as well. Most of them were from Vietnam or China. And then after that they said, okay, we need to send you for a psychiatric assessment. And then it was just a whole like night of being sent from one place to another and the whole time I was handcuffed right? And that's not fun cause it's a bit tight and yeah, it left a bruise, but yeah, basically it was just one night of being in jail and then being at the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore.
But basically you're treated like a criminal throughout, so that obviously made me feel really what the heck? Did I just do something wrong? It is just really embarrassing to have gone through all of this. It just doesn't help the person who's mentally struggling at all. I'm just really happy that it's now decriminalized and, yeah, and hopefully no one else has to go through it.
Jeremy Au: (36:10)
Wow. I had no idea when you put it that way.
Sabrina Ooi: (36:13)
Oh wait. I need to say something, so I'm not a criminal. I got let off with a warning, so my record’s clean.
Jeremy Au: (36:21)
You put it out there.
Sabrina Ooi: (36:22)
I had to put it out there.
Jeremy Au: (36:24)
Like, yeah, imagine you're like, you have record, why? Because I wanted to commit suicide. That's terrible.
Sabrina Ooi: (36:33)
Yeah, I know. It's like the lamest excuse for being in jail, like, oh, I wish, I was like, I don't know. Yeah. Like if people ask me, have you ever been arrested? Yeah. For what? Starting a protest or something would be cooler.
Jeremy Au: (36:46)
Yeah, no, I'm glad you're alright. Because like you said the police officer was in such a bad position as well. Because the last thing you wanna say is please don't commit suicide and I will arrest you. That's probably quite contradictory in terms of that.
Sabrina Ooi: (36:59)
Ah, I know. Exactly. And it's not the guy's fault either, right? He's just doing his job. So I was like, I can't be angry with it. I can't be angry about this. Cause it's just like that law, right?
Jeremy Au: (37:09)
Yeah. And I think folks, like you said you mentioned your friends had two suicides and obviously you, yourself were considering it. Is there any advice for people who are considering suicide? I mean don't do it. What does it mean to, don't do it? Yeah.
Sabrina Ooi: (37:24)
Yeah. And I know, sorry, I mean, I don't wanna trivialize it cause I've been there before. Honestly, I think it boils down into patience and perseverance. Cause when you wanna kill yourself, it just feels like all hope is gone. And that's the only way out. You may not wanna actually kill yourself or end your life, but you just wanna end the way things are right now. And oftentimes it's something that you can't run away from because it's all in your head, right? You can't just like, okay, I wanna perform surgery on my brain right now. And oftentimes people don't even realize that it's something to do with your brain or your chemicals or people don't know that it's something that you can do something about. So when I say patience and perseverance, what I mean is that I think it's really about recognizing that there are ways to get help and there are ways to improve your current, state wherever you are and oftentimes, that actually looks like seeking help. And what that means is seeking help that actually helps you, right? So what might work for someone may not work for you. So for me, what help was that? It was a combination of getting on the medication which actually enabled me to be in a better state of mind, to be more open to therapy. And therapy actually helped me find my additional, like, support systems, from exercise to reframing my thoughts to journaling, things like that.
So it's a combination of things and I think we just have to be really patient. And just persevere to figure out the right combination that works for ourselves. There are also things that didn't work for me along the way. There were a few times where my bosses at that time said, Sabrina, come to church with me, but I'm Muslim.
So it didn't work. I am not very actively practicing, but still it was difficult to buy in. And then yeah, someone brought me to like Muay Thai and I'm like, I just don't wanna hit people, it's not going to work. So I think, yeah, just really being patient and finding the right combination.
Being able to research and try things out. Cause sometimes it just has to get worse before it gets better as well. For me with therapy, with medication. Medication will have some side effects. You just have to find the right combination of medication that could help you. And even with therapy when you are going through therapy, you're encouraged to face your your trauma and all that shit. And you're just going to feel even worse for a while. So yeah, I think it's really just persisting being patient about it. And in Singlish in terms of just tahan lah. You just got to keep going.
Jeremy Au: (40:12)
Thank you so much for your advice. On that note, I'd love to summarize, I think the three big takeaways I got from this conversation. The first is thank you so much for sharing about what was it like to be diagnosed and to be living bipolar and also explaining what bipolar is for so many folks. And also sharing, I think your personal journey about what was it like to attempt suicide and to be arrested for it. And I think a lot of the conversations around how you also saw I think the ripple effects of suicide and mental issues in your own personal community and friendships. So I thought it was a really personal journey that I think very few folks get to hear. And I thank you so much for being open about it. So thank you so much.
The second is thank you so much for sharing about your passion and obviously about this as a result and how you transform, I think, your own personal pain into something that was a passion more other oriented and then eventually to making this a business and startup. So I thought it was an interesting step-by-step dynamic where you walk us through, I think, that transformation, but also that evolution and how you achieve some level of product market fit, but also being thoughtful about the revenue sources and possibilities there.
The third thing I think was also your advice around for folks about if you're a founder, how to manage your stress, but also I think it's more generalizable to everybody else, right? So encouraging folks to find treatment that really works for them personally. And seeing that there's hope during the worst of times, and if you're thinking about doing it, don't do it. So I think it's totally fair advice. So thank you so much for sharing, Sabrina.
Sabrina Ooi: (41:49)
Thank you so much. It was a really great chat and you helped me put things into perspective as well, so thank you.