Over-The-Rainbow Spotlight

I was telling a friend about my grand plans to start a slew of initiatives for youths. The more she listened to my ideas, the more she repeated.. there is one person who’s done something similar.. let me introduce him to you.

That was how I met Yen-Lu, founder of Over-The-Rainbow. Everything I had conceived, he has already executed them, over the past 11 years. What struck me was not only his authenticity, drive and how massively action oriented he is, but also his warm hospitality, making you feel comfortable right away.

I’m very aligned with his vision and am planning to volunteer with his organisation, and have been sharing about their Chatline and subsidized professional counselling for youths. I have also been invited to be on their Parenting & Education fireside chat happening on 2 March (Sat) at 11am.

When did you start this organisation?

We started our family foundation in 2010. Over-The-Rainbow was formally launched in Oct 2012. We are an approved IPC Charity. More details: https://overtherainbow.sg/about/

What motivated you to start this?

On October 22, 2009, we lost our son and only child to suicide. He was 26 years old. He was suffering from manic depression and lost his battle to the illness. It was a parent’s worst nightmare – and the darkest time of our lives. His suicide was also a wake up call, not just for us as parents, but for society as a whole. Our son was a very caring and compassionate person. He once told us, “wouldn’t it be nice if we can make a difference someone’s life.” His life, his passing and legacy became the inspiration and the genesis of our family foundation and Over-The-Rainbow (OTR) youth mental wellness initiative. 

Early on, we realized that perhaps, we are not alone – that he was not alone – that there are likely many other young people who suffer from depression or other forms of mental disorders. And we wanted to do something about it. For in our heart, we didn’t want what happened to us – the heartbreak of losing a child or a loved one to mental illness – to happen to any other parents, or any other human being. This was that first glimmer of light – it provided a path to help move us forward. So rather than focusing on our own grief, pain, sorrow, and suffering, we decided that we would instead focus our attention on others’ pain and suffering – and to try to alleviate that suffering. This was the beginning of our healing and transformation. And this was what our son would have wanted.

What age group / demographic do you serve?

We serve primarily youths (age 13-35) and parents / families, secondarily the community at large.

What services do you provide?

OTR programs & services: OTR Listens, Circle-of-ConneXion, Think x Rainbow Youth Counselling & Parental Support-Line, Wellbeing Champion, Rainbow Connection, etc. 

More details: https://overtherainbow.sg/

What is unique about your organisation?

We provide upstream services which includes prevention, preemption and early intervention. We pioneered the idea of holistic self care: an inside-out approach to mental healthcare. Which means putting on our own oxygen mask first – taking responsibility and ownership of our own wellbeing, from which we can start to take care of those around us. By working on ourselves first, we are then able to provide support to others around us. Community is very important: it takes a village. But the village has largely disappeared in modern society. We need to bring back the modern-day version of this village. We are doing this by creating the Circle of Care, an ecosystem that supports the individuals which includes youths, parents, teachers, etc.

Looking back, Over-The-Rainbow has been able to achieve so much as a small private nonprofit organisation—the support rendered to so many youths, their families and the community at large—only because of the heart and soul—and hard work of our people including our volunteers—the kind contributions from our partners, and the generosity of our donors. It takes a village. And it takes a vision.

OTR is the little engine that could – an engine with a soul. 

What was started from the ashes of a heart-shattering family tragedy has transformed into a thriving organization with a mission that turned into a movement to transform mental wellness for the 21st century.

More details on our flagship Wellbeing Champion and the concept of Circle-of-Care: https://otrlistens.net/wellbeing-champion

What is the most popular service?

OTR Listens. It is an anonymous Chatline, not a crisis hotline. For youths to have an outlet to vent or chat with someone who will listen to them with empathy.

Hours of operation: Weekdays: 4pm-12mn, Weekends: 12noon-12mn

More details: https://otrlistens.net/

What is a little known service?

Circle of ConneXion. It is a self-help group run by our volunteers to create a safe space for youths to come together and share their thoughts.

More details: https://otrlistens.net/circle-of-connexion

How can youths or families volunteer?

There are several areas people can volunteer for – community outreach, creatives & design, digital marketing, event planning & logistics, fundraising & sponsorship, IT, volunteer coordination and writing. We are also looking for volunteers for OTR Listens which is a safe and anonymous chat platform providing emotional support for youths. Volunteers go through training to empower them so that they have the capacity to help others.

What upcoming events are in the pipeline?

We just organized our first OTR Wellbeing Champion Charity Walk 2024 on 18 Feb – over 100 attended. We have our second Wellbeing Champion Charity Walk planned for August this year. We have Wellbeing Champion Festivals planned for March, June, December, and a big Wellbeing Champion Conference in late Sept /early Oct. We also have 3-4 major volunteer recruitment and training events coming up. In addition, we co-organize webinars around Personal Wellbeing and Parenting.

Upcoming events: https://otrlistens.net/events

If you have a magic wand, how would you half the suicide rate for young people?

I will turn everyone into a Wellbeing Champion 🙂

My Big Fat Audacious Goal

As I’m entering the next half of my life, I’ve been pondering my purpose. What else do I want to do before I leave this earth?

The one thing that has been heavy on my heart for the past 2 decades is the number of suicides amongst our youth. Having dialogued with many in this space, the complexities of why a young person would feel pressed to take their own life is not easy to unravel, much less solve.

Did you know that every 3 days, one young person aged 10-29 dies by suicide? Isn’t that number sobering?

My kids have faced their own mental health crises, and the stories are cutting too close. They’ve all known someone who has taken their own life. A best friend’s younger brother. A friend’s brother’s wife. A student in their secondary school. 3 poly mates they know of. And they have shared with me many more encounters of cries for help – having to rush down to drive a friend’s sister to A&E after overdosing, a friend who didn’t turn up for dinner because a sibling had self-harmed and was hospitalized.

And for every suicide, there are more who have attempted, are depressed, or in deep emotional pain. None of our children are shielded from this harsh reality of the silent anguish within. There are so many issues plaguing our children these days and we don’t know which of them will succumb to the pressure.

As parents, we cannot turn a blind eye to this huge problem right in front of us. What have we done collectively, as a society, for our children to give up on life, on themselves. What can we do better?

The perplexing thing is that despite the efforts of so many organisations, the numbers are rising. In 2022, there were a total of 125 suicides among the 10-29 age group. And the justification that our population has grown doesn’t hold water because birth rates have been declining.

The more I discussed this with friends, the more we felt compelled to start a non-profit. However, my wise friend Su advised me to check out everything that is available.

What I discovered, was that there are a LOT of services out there for youth with regards to mental health. And I also discovered that almost every youth I spoke to have NEVER heard of any of them. Such a pity that we have all these wonderful resources, many of which are ground up initiatives which not enough people know of.

Thus, my new mission is to review all the services out there to raise awareness and help spread the word. Haha finally I can put my blog to good use.

And my big fat audacious goal is to half the suicide rate within my lifetime. All of us can take small steps to play our part, and together, we can change these very scary statistics, one child at a time. Who’s with me?

Life Lesson #21: Are we slowly killing ourselves?

We are just into the second week of January and I need a break. A vacation. The kind where you don’t bring the kids so you can chill at a secluded beach, let the sound of the waves wash over you, and let your mind wander.

It’s been a pretty full-on week. On top of working full-time, I squeezed in a JC Open House, charity event, orthodontic visit, church group discussion and met up with friends over dinner. And then there’s the weekend with a meet-the-principal session, University open house, two birthday parties and a dinner. All while juggling the kids.

We are trying to fit too much into our lives, aren’t we?

I was telling some mums who were concerned about their kids being over-scheduled that they are like sponges. There is only so much they can absorb and everything else will spill over.

It is no different with us. We are rushing from one place to another. Have we stopped to think about our lives? The quality of it? Our connection with others? Our connection with our kids? Are we always barking at them to hurry up? Ferrying them from one activity to another without spending time with them? Do we know what is on their minds and in their hearts?

It’s funny how every time someone asks us, “How are you?” Somewhere in our answer will be “Busy lor, with work, kids, and whatever million other things we have on our plate.”

Since when has being busy become a badge of honour?

Have we given much thought about how we really are feeling? C’mon, there’s so much to do, who has time to stop to think if this is what we really want our lives to be, or if we are deep-down-contented happy.

There are bills to be paid, a household to run. And say, if we did reflect on how our lives are going, do we have the luxury to stop, if we find this is not how we want to live our lives?

#2 has been doing the JC Open house rounds with her schoolmates these past few days. They have 4 days to make a decision and fill in their 12 choices. She invited me to join her to check out her top choice (yes, now mummy can’t just barge in to the teenagers’ activities).

It was a vibrant scene. The aspirants were eager-faced and excited to join the big new JC world and the seniors and teachers were enthusiastic in answering their questions and encouraging them to join the school.

As I looked around the bustling hall filled with students, parents and teachers, as much as a part of me felt joyous that #2 will be embarking on a pivotal and memorable 2 years of her life where they will study hard, play hard and form solid friendships, I had a nagging feeling.

What have we, as a society, driven ourselves to?

Hearing about how hectic their week is going to be made me wonder if there can be another way.

Seems that for the subject combination she intends to choose, classes will end at 5pm most days, and CCAs are at 5-7pm on 2 days. #1’s school was along this bus route, and even though it is 4 bus stops away, during peak hour the buses don’t stop if they are full. Thus we expect #2 to be home between 7-8.30pm. Given that they leave the house at 7.30am, that is longer than a working day for adults! Factor in dinner, shower and homework, and it is beyond what a healthy day should look like.

I’ve heard from many that the weekends are not spared, and they spend it catching up on sleep, revising their work or meeting classmates for group work. My uncles who have been teaching in JCs for the past 30 years concur that times have changed and things have become much tougher than when we were in JC.

It is the same story for #1 who is in poly. She leaves the house at 8am and on days when she has CCA, she is back at 10pm.

This, my dear friends, is our school and work culture. We start over-scheduling our kids when they are in pre-school, the schools take over that job soon enough, and we enter the workforce where it is the norm. Somewhere down the line, we pause and wonder, how did we get here? This is not what I envisioned my life to be.

It is like the speedometer where you rev the car, the pointer is going up up up, and we keep revving, until it reaches the red point. It is no surprise that we have kids attempting suicide. There is only so much a person can take.

Something is seriously wrong. We are advancing so rapidly, but getting nowhere.

What can we do?

How can we slow down?

What can we cut out?

Running at full speed for months on end with only 2 long breaks in a year is hardly sufficient. How can we put more weekly breaks into our schedules so we don’t become over-stretched. Both as parents, and for our children.

As parents, we don’t even get the break we need (and truly deserve) during the weekends. There are still children to tend to and activities to get done.

I don’t have the answers. It is even harder for us with big families as things are multiplied and magnified. The good, the bad, the busy.

All I know is I need to not stop searching for a better way. I hope never to fall into the trap of going with the flow and end up feeling tired, overwhelmed and dejected. Because if we, who are supposed to be the pillars for our children, are ourselves overburdened, how can we support them?

Everyone is running on their own treadmill. In a big family, yes, there are more siblings to share their worries and keep an eye on one another, but there are also more children, more unique personalities and a higher probability of one falling through the cracks. And I only have so many hours in a day, and too many kids who need my attention (although I hear the same cry from parents with only 2 kids!) I do worry.

I guess I’ll start with baby steps. Spending time in silence always helps me to recalibrate. I need to be intentional about scheduling that at the end of every week to remove the build up of stress that has accumulated over the week of madness. And I have to engineer the weekends to be rejuvenating, instead of cramming too much in. Some things have to be relinquished.

The big question is, which ones?

You know what comes to mind? The story of the frogs. The one where if you throw a bunch of frogs into a pot of boiling water, they will jump out. But if you put them in water and slowly boil them, they wouldn’t know any better as the temperature slowly creeps up on them.

Are we slowly killing ourselves?

Other life lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family
~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Life Lesson #19: The tragedy of our society

I read about the double tragedy of a straight ‘A’s student committing suicide after hours of receiving her O level results because she had 2 ‘B’s, and of her heart-broken mother following suit 3 months later.

The pressure seems to be getting worse and worse for our children. On all fronts.

Just last week, some mums were talking about how a student from a top school had committed suicide.

We were very heavy-hearted and in an attempt to make sense of the situation, generalisations started surfacing. 

“Grades are not everything. Better not put our kids in top schools. So stressful. Neighbourhood schools better.”

“But in mixed school will have BGR problems. Also headache.”

The common reasons for suicide in our children and youths seem to be disappointing parents with poor grades, family problems and relationship/bullying issues.

As we were quiet and letting it sink in, a friend shared something even more disturbing.

Her daughter was in the same school as the child who committed suicide and she was very concerned about how she has been affected. She raised the issue with her daughter and this was the reply.

“I’m ok mum. Like that lor. She committed suicide.”

Have our young people been numbed?

In this rush of life, of me, myself and I, of gadgets in our faces. Have we lost our connectedness with one another? 

That scares me plenty.

As our country turns 50, we have a lot to ponder.

Yes, our country is prosperous.

Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for.

But dig deeper. What do we find inside ourselves? Inside our youths?

We need to put a stop to the endless and mindless pursuit of more. Of one-upmanship. When will it end?

We need to come back to a life of contentment.

Maybe it’s time we stop thinking about bigger and better.
Maybe it’s time we start thinking about what really, really matters.

Other life lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family
~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Life Lesson #13: Confronting death teaches you about life

I’ve been volunteering at a hospice as I’ve always been drawn to palliative care from the time I was a student. This morning, I was pushing an elderly lady around the gardens and she asked me to stop to gaze at the colourful flowers. They brought a smile to her face. Then she spotted 2 little sparrows and she was delighted.

It struck me how alike she is to my kids when they were young. How they would stop to inspect the flowers and burst into childlike wonderment at the beauty of a flower.
It got me thinking. At the beginning of our lives, it’s the simplest things like having the love of mummy and daddy which is most important.
At the end of our lives it is again the warmth of family that we need most. 
How do we end up chasing after all the wrong things throughout our lives? How do we allow our priorities to shift so dramatically?

As I left the hospice, I asked myself, if I was on my deathbed what would I regret? Most likely, I would regret being overly harsh on my kids and yelling at them so much, instead of disciplining them with gentleness and love. Most likely, I would regret the many times I brushed them aside while I tend to all my seemingly more ‘important’ work. Most likely, I would regret choosing to be angry at them instead of immediately forgiving them and hugging them tightly in my arms.

And I asked myself, if I was on my deathbed, what would I be thinking about? Would I be able to easily bring up all the beautiful and happy moments with my family? Would I have uncountable memories of good times, filled with fun and laughter, tears and joy with my closest friends?

At the end of my life, what would I be left with? Things? Titles? Or People?

It takes death to put life into perspective.
And I know, it is the little things which make up L I F E.

However, to live life fully like there is no tomorrow, that is the hard part.

Linking up with:


Other life lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Life Lesson #11: What must kids do for us to stop pushing them over the edge

Last week, a P5 child attempted suicide in my child’s school. Hopefully after this episode the child’s parents will heed this cry for help. Last year, a Sec 4 child in my other child’s school committed suicide.

A close friend was sharing with me that her 8-year old wanted to run away from home. And take the cab to her best friends house. Of course she wasn’t seriously going to carry out her plan but she was so terrified of her mummy’s anger that she wanted to escape from it. Only then did my friend realise that although she doesn’t use the cane on her kids, sometimes, her wrath is much more fearsome and hurtful to them.
A police friend told me that kids are now running away from home younger and younger and they have found 8 and 9-year olds on the street. How terrifying. A home doesn’t seem to be a haven for some children anymore.
Many years ago, when I reached out to hold one of my daughter’s hand to cross the road, she said, “Let the car knock me down better. I’d rather die.” I literally stopped in my tracks.
Our kids are crying out to us. What must they do for us to stop pushing them over the edge?

In a recent study of over 600 primary school children in Singapore, a group of doctors from IMH found that more than 20% indicated they wanted to kill themselves or harboured suicidal thoughts at one time. I highly recommend parents and teachers read “The Day the Ball Didn’t Bounce” which is based on a true story, written by Dr Peter Mack.

Linking up with:
Other life lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Life Lesson #9: What have we done to our children

Last week I attended Brahm Centre’s charity dinner and I’m glad I went. It was immensely inspiring to witness the many men and women who contribute their time, money and effort for such a good cause. This voluntary organisation’s mission is to offer educational programs and activities to promote happier and healthier living. It was at this centre where I shared my personal experiences during my talk on Parenting 6 kids without going mad or broke in April.

Group MD of American International Industries & Board Member of Brahm Centre, Brahm Centre’s yoga instructor, International speaker & author of ‘Search inside yourself’, CEO of Tan Chin Tuan Foundation

There were so many prominent business leaders and luminaries yet they selflessly give of their time in voluntary work. See the photo above? So many cool people. Coincidentally, one is my ex-classmate, one an ex-neighbour, and one a cousin-in-law. And me? Maybe I should give myself a title – CEO of the Wee kids (after all, we are almost a SME). Then at least it would seem like I have achieved something.

Brahm Centre published a book The day the ball didn’t bounce written by Dr Peter Mack, with a forward by our 6th President, S.R. Nathan. I read it in one sitting and it really tore at my heart. It tells the true story of a 16-year old boy who committed suicide last year. It troubles me that a child or teen would even contemplate wanting to end his or her life. According to statistics, 20% of primary school children in Singapore have harboured suicidal thoughts. That is simply alarming.

A secondary 4 girl in #2’s school committed suicide last year. The principal gave instructions that the students are not to talk about it at all. Will hushing it up and hiding from it help? Perhaps it was out of respect for the family. But as a society don’t we need to talk about it? We need to have our kids know that they can turn to someone for support, that problems can be worked through. In many cases, such as the one highlighted in the book, the cause of suicide is unknown. Could it be due to the academic stress of the ‘O’ levels? Could it be relationship problems? Could it have anything to do with the family?

Sadly, many parents these days are overly concerned about one thing. That is, the achievement of stellar results. But at what cost? Are we literally driving our kids to their graves? I heard with disbelief about a primary 5 boy who committed suicide over his spelling marks. I know of parents who give their kids a tight slap in front of their friends if the grades fall below a certain expected mark. I have even heard one story where the parents told their son not to come home if he doesn’t score above 90 for his exams. In the end, a police report had to be made because the child was afraid to come home and couldn’t be found. Strangely, or perhaps it is not so strange after all, these stories come mostly from top schools.

Are we taking the easy way out by blaming the competitive system? Are our hands really tied? As parents, we do have more control than we think. If our child came back with 60 marks, we can choose one of two responses: “Why so bad? Your cousin always gets above 80. You are such a disappointment. So useless!” or “That’s an improvement over your last exam. I can see that your effort has paid off. Well done!”

If we choose the former, what are we inadvertently telling our kids? That their self-worth is linked to a grade on a piece of paper? That we love them only based on their achievements? It is no wonder many children grow up with such hurt, bitterness, and a sense of worthlessness. And many become adults who are searching for ways to fill that emotional void as they never had a sense of security for being good enough just as they are. There is such a delicate line between wanting to motivate them by pushing them harder, and breaking their spirit with harsh words.

My heart aches for the children of this generation. Many may look rich with materialism but are poor and broken inside. For every child who unfortunately succeeds in committing suicide, there are more who attempted suicide but did not succeed. Something has gone wrong. What can we do? How can we stop their pain?

Invisible sufferings
It was heartwarming to hear from Tan Chade-Meng, the keynote speaker at this event, who is a Singaporean working in Google. I love his self-depreciating humour. It takes an incredibly self-assured person not to take himself seriously. You won’t believe it, but his official title on his name card says “Jolly Good Fellow”. And his job description is ‘Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace’. His story is truly inspiring. He started out as a software engineer at Google and spent his leisure hours studying meditation and mindfulness. He managed to create such an impact that he headed GoogleEDU’s head of personal growth and went on to deliver a TED talk at the United Nations and even gave a speech at the White House! You can learn how to transform your life with his book Search Inside Yourself – The unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace).

I was really impressed at his rise to fame, so during the Q & A, I asked him what was the 1 thing which contributed to his success. I’m sure there are a lot of other mindfulness speakers out there, so how did he get to be where he is today?

His answer was “Luck”. I was taken aback, but he went on to explain. Behind his “luck” are 3 important factors.

1) Being at the right place at the right time, and always being prepared.
2) Giving his best effort in everything he does. Thus when an opportunity arises and the people above are looking for someone, they will say “How about Meng? He’s very dependable”.

3) Being surrounded by good people. He believes in treating every single person with kindness, no matter who they are. As it turned out, there were many people he met who were prominent people. I experienced this firsthand during the Q & A, as when I started with a “Hi”, he immediately replied, “You’re Michelle, right?” Wow. Talk about treating everyone with compassion and respect.
I’m taking his advice and ‘surrounding’ myself with good people!
Sane tip: I left the dinner with a renewed sense of wanting to reach out more to those around us, and was reminded of the notion that nothing is impossible. No matter what our age, we can still dream big dreams, believe in ourselves and perservere. I have been trying to instil in my kids the importance of giving to those less fortunate than ourselves, and we attempt to do some charity work together every school holiday. I guess we need to look into ways to do more. Dr Peter Mack puts it so eloquently:

Charity Begins at Home:
Many other little actions go a long way towards establishing the child’s resilience, including developing the habit of expressing gratitude. The ability to express gratitude is a strong asset in life. Let the child learn to be charitable because it is the antidote to selfishness and self-centredness. Donating money for a good cause is fine but it is the charitable work that makes the greatest impression in developing the child’s identity. This is because charity work allows the child to see himself as part of a greater whole in society.
Being involved in voluntary causes also gives the child circumspection – a perspective of how fortunate he is compared to many others. Through charitable activities done with friends or family, the adolescent can see first-hand for himself that it is possible to survive tough times by reaching out to others in times of need. By giving back to society, the adolescent comprehends that it is possible to survive with much less, and that it is possible to smile through turbulent periods by learning to rely not only on his own abilities, but also on other people in times of need.

Dr Peter Mack in The day the ball didn’t bounce

Save  tip: We were each given a copy of The day the ball didn’t bounce at the charity dinner. As President Nathan wrote in the forward,

“It should be evident to the reader that the main tool, in our hands, to prevent a suicide would be to recognise the early signs of stress that appear from behaviour and make the person aware that you care enough to want to listen to his or her troubles and want to work together to resolve them… I believe this book will be an easy and yet valuable read for all parents and teachers.”

I have 3 copies with me which I am happy to give away. Just leave a comment here or on my FB page with your email so that I can contact you if the book is yours. If there are more than 3 readers, I’ll get Kate to pick 3 names randomly. The book can also be purchased from Brahm Centre (free with a $10 donation).

This August, the talks lined up at Brahm Centre includes topics such as ‘Laughter and Happy Living’, ‘Back pain – When is it serious?’, and ‘”Pa and Ma, I love you!” How to Engage our elderly loved ones meaningfully’. Hop over to their website for the dates and times. Admission is free.

If you are looking to do some meaningful volunteer work, why not consider their Youth Program (coaching, skills training, leading activities), Virtual Hospital Program (befriending, cooking, coordinating) or if you have expertise in such areas, you could give a talk on various happiness or health topics. Just fill in their online form.

Other life lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~