Photo by Crispian Chan @crispiphotos

Adrian Pang, Actor, Presenter, Artistic Director

Adrian Pang is a Singaporean actor, presenter and Artistic Director at Pangdemonium Theatre Company.

In 2010, Adrian and his wife Tracie started Pangdemonium with the mission to tell stories that tackle important and challenging themes, and to inspire dialogue and positive action for the good of our collective humanity. This includes many stories around the theme of mental health like Next to Normal (2016), The Father (2018), The Son (2020), and to complete the family ‘trilogy’, The Mother (2021) which will be staged at the Victoria Theatre in June this year.

You often deal with mental health issues in your productions, and have spoken up about how you had your own dark period last year during the pandemic. What first motivated your interest in the topic, and for you to speak up about it?

In 2013, we discovered a Broadway musical called Next to Normal. It’s about this family dealing with the mother, who was suffering from bipolar disorder. We fell in love with it, the story, the characters, the music; we found it very, very powerful and meaningful. So we got the rights for it, staged it, and it just struck a chord with so many people who came to see it, not just as a piece of entertainment, but about the message about it as well.

We got to meet some incredible people who are caregivers of people with bipolar disorder, as well as the people living with the condition. It was such an inspiring, humbling experience for us. We eventually became so intrigued and so passionate about wanting to keep the conversation going, and from then on, we staged at least five other plays that are mental health related.

Finally, having had a personal intimate experience with a mental health issue myself, made this topic to be something very close to me and my family's heart. It's very exciting for me as a 55 year old man, to know that I'm living in a community now in Singapore, in an Asian society where this topic has been such taboo and been so stigmatised for a long time, that people are not as afraid to talk about it now. We've got to treat mental illness as an illness. There is treatment, and there’s no shame in seeking treatment.

Tell us a little more about your personal mental health journey.

Last year, COVID hit me hard as it did many, many people. I got to a point where I felt totally redundant, pointless and purposeless, where everything was just kind of meaningless. It was like an existential crisis.

It lasted for months, and therein lies the irony - there I was as part of this company, producing all these plays that encourage people to speak up and seek help, and here I was not practising what I preach. My family rallied around me and encouraged me to seek help. Finally, I took a good long look at myself and decided to seek help from a professional. I was prescribed medication; it took a little while to set in for me, but then I started to feel better. Having regular therapy sessions to just talk and wail and cry, and moan and laugh definitely helped too.

On my own, I have also started a routine of caring for myself. I try to start the day right - use my phone less, meditate, love my cat, have a healthy breakfast, listen to music - and all that really helped. The whole idea of “you can't really take care of somebody else unless you take care of yourself first” never really struck a chord with me. But now, I finally discovered the truth in that, and here I am, forging ahead.

How important do you think caregivers are to a person's recovery and progress, if he/she is going through a mental health issue?

Having heard a lot of stories from caregivers themselves, it really is incredible. The role they play in caring for their loved ones and the toll that it takes on them. This is something that the lay person or the rest of us so easily forget about.

There was this one story that really struck me, about a woman who was caring for her mother with bipolar disorder. When I asked her how her life changed as a result of caregiving, her response was: “Well, you know, I just have to dream a little smaller for myself”. That really, really hit home for me, because when you dedicate yourself to caring for your loved one, your own life kind of has to take a back seat. So personally, I think that caregivers need care as well.

What would you like to say to your fans to support you through the campaign?

This is a much bigger thing than myself, but it's a small step, metaphorically, in creating more awareness, not just about mental health, but caregivers of persons with mental health issues. Their dedication is invaluable, and we need to celebrate them, and support them a lot more. So hopefully, in my small way of taking as many steps as I can, this will be one step towards creating more awareness.