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'If I give up, what will happen to my parents?' Woman who became caregiver at 13 shares her struggles

SINGAPORE – At the age of 13, Ms Crystal Lee became a caregiver to her cancer-stricken father.

Five years later, her mother suffered a stroke, which made her dependent on Ms Lee for tasks like getting out of bed, showering and eating.

Ms Lee, an only child, would cook meals for the family and take care of her parents while juggling her studies, sometimes doing her assignments along hospital corridors.

Now 34, she said the toughest part of caring for her mother is seeing her lose her will to live.

“Her stroke took away all her confidence and motivation in life. I have to always try to cheer her up and experiment with different ways to motivate her to keep living.”

Her own social life has ground to a halt, because it became highly dependent on her caregiving duties.

“I have to make sure my papa and mummy are okay before I can even think about going out for a meal with my friends. If I catch a movie once in a blue moon, my phone is constantly in my hand in case I get a call.”

There have been many moments she wanted to give up, but there is no option for her to do so.

“Whenever I see my parents, I cannot do it,” she said. “If I give up, what will happen to them?”

The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) launched a campaign on Saturday to shine a spotlight on caregivers like Ms Lee, and to recognise the important role they play in the community.

Sometimes, the caregivers themselves do not recognise their own role.

A survey by AIC in 2021 found that only 49 per cent of 900 respondents identified themselves as caregivers, despite all having at least one dependant.


On Saturday, AIC said that caregivers who do not identify themselves as such may view their contributions as acts of duty. Hence, they may not actively prioritise self-care and respite care, and may be at risk of burnout.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Law Rahayu Mahzam, who launched the We See You Care campaign, said: “To their loved ones, caregivers can always be counted on as a source of support even in the best or worst of times.

“But caregivers, too, need care.”

She added: “Some take pride that they can attend to the full load of their loved ones’ needs. Others worry that others do not know their loved ones’ preferences well enough and hence do not reach out for support. But nobody is invincible, not even superheroes.”

Ms Rahayu said the Ministry of Health is working with AIC to activate caregiver community outreach teams to conduct health and wellness activities or share about stress management with caregivers.

AIC’s campaign will consolidate resources for different care needs, like financial grants, support groups and respite care on its webpage ( to make information more accessible to caregivers.

Mr Warren Sheldon Humphries, 54, is a caregiver to an elderly family member who has been diagnosed with depression, as well as to a 30-year-old friend who has post-traumatic stress disorder.

In April 2020, Mr Humphries experienced a personal setback in the midst of caring for others – he was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, an incurable disease that causes nerve damage.

The illness caused him to have difficulty with walking and grabbing things, and he experiences muscle spasms and chronic pain. When going out for errands, he uses a motorised wheelchair.

Some of the toughest challenges of caregiving stem from the emotional and mental burdens that one has to carry, Mr Humphries said. “When you make the decision to be a caregiver for someone, you need to be invested 100 per cent.”

He added: “We can’t try to lie to ourselves and think that caregiving is finite, as if we have to do this for only a couple of years and then be done with it.

“There may be times when you think: ‘Do I want to carry on?’”

Some caregivers may not even recognise signs of burnout, said Mr Humphries. It could manifest itself in little things, like suddenly being more aggressive with the person one is caring for, or losing one’s patience.

“You spend so much time taking care of a person, that you don’t realise you’re losing yourself at the end of it. It’s a very scary thing.”