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Brain food: What leaders in the Mental Health Space of SEA are reading

Written by Emily Fang Published on 

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Here are some recommended reads by 5 Southeast Asian leaders in the mental health space.

Mental health was truly at the forefront of discussion in Singapore this year. These discussions came from Zoom fatigue, unemployment, stigma, loneliness, and more. We had the opportunity to speak to mental health advocates and specialists, envelope pushers and empaths, entrepreneurs and founders. 

Through these conversations, the common theme was a strong need for more resources and continuing open dialogue. At Oasis, we have the right platform to bring these to light. We’ve gathered a list of great noteworthy books and their personal thoughts from leaders in this space for our readers to curl up with and read.

Recommended by Chirag Agarwal, Co-Founder of Talk Your Heart Out.  

Moral Letters to Lucilius – Letters from a Stoic, by Seneca: This book was a game-changer for me. I was struck by how a book written about 2000 years ago can still be so relevant for us today. Although this is a book on the philosophy of stoicism, it really helped me structure my thoughts and control my tendency to ‘catastrophise’. Really, stoicism does have a lot in common with cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and there are many things it taught me about maintaining good mental health. The main lesson that came out for me was that we should only try to control what we can, and let go of the rest. That is to say that I can only work on my own thoughts, behaviours, habits, and decisions – and accept that there is a limit to how much I can influence external circumstances. Using this model helps me to clarify where my limited time and energy would be used best, and reminds me not to be anxious about things I do not have the power to change.

Sabrina Ooi of Calm Collective

Recommended by Sabrina Ooi, Co-founder of Calm Collective Asia. Read her interview.

Search Inside Yourself, by Chade-Meng Tan: This was my very first introduction to meditation and mindfulness back in 2015, as I was finding ways to deal with anxiety. As an engineer, Meng is great at breaking down the concepts into practical terms, and suggests simple practices to get started. Since then, I’ve leaned on meditation as part of my self-care toolkit!

The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk: Van der Kolk writes about how psychological trauma literally affects the physical body and brain. The main takeaway for me was – to address poor mental health affected by trauma, treatment has to be focused on “restor(ing) the proper balance between the rational and emotional part of the brain,” which means finding ways to fully come to terms with that trauma, and to maintain calm. For me, this means seeing my therapist and journaling consistently to regulate day to day stress.

Recommended by Theodoric Chew, Founder of intellect

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb: This book is about a therapist who goes through an experience of grief and loss, and documents her own journey of seeing a therapist. It’s a relatable read for anyone looking to explore starting therapy, or anyone going through a rough time, which is particularly pertinent this year.

Shilpa Jain of Talk Your Heart Out.

Recommended by Shilpa Jain, Co-Founder of Talk Your Heart Out. Read her interview.

Rewire Your Anxious Brain, by Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle: This book was gifted to me by my husband when I was experiencing a severe bout of burnout working long hours as a corporate lawyer in Australia. Rooted in cutting edge research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology, it sets out to explain why we suffer from anxiety, panic or stress. The main message that came out to me was that I did not have to feel alone in feeling this way – it was normal to experience these emotions – and indeed reversible and manageable as well. The book also provided evidence-based and effective tips to overcome anxiety. It was a truly empowering and reassuring read. 

Recommended by Anthea Indira Ong, Impact Entrepreneur & Investor.

50 Shades of Love, by Anthea Indira Ong: Reading my own life condensed into 50 shorts that I wrote and reflecting on the 50 life-changing questions helped me make sense of the challenges I’ve had, and the gifts that they were. Each time, I would discover something new about myself and go deeper into my healing and this journey of growth. It’s why I dedicated the book ‘To those who dare to care and question “Why am I here?”

The Second Mountain (The Quest for a Moral Life), by David Brooks: David Brooks writes about discovering a life of meaning and purpose through 4 commitments to: family, vocation, philosophy or faith and a community. It resonates deeply with me as I have done the same since my own brush with depression 14 years ago with the colossal collapse of my life. He describes moral joy as the highest form of joy that is lived by people who are so grateful to have found their place and taken their stand. I feel this same joy that could only have come from having experienced that deep pain. 


Emily Fang is the Community Lead of Oasis by KrASIA. Emily is a US expat currently living in Singapore to learn about the tech communities growing in Asia. She has worked 4+ years in dev relations, community management, and event marketing within the tech and travel industry in San Francisco. Her time at OmniSci, Google and Booking.com gave her cross-functional expertise. In her free time, she runs the volunteer community initiatives for Singapore Women’s Network.

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WRITTEN BY

Emily Fang

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