YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES IN A DIGITAL WORLD

#SESSION 3 - Beyond Awareness: Greater Mental Health Support for Youths

WHILE youths have made headway in taking charge of their own mental health — experts report that more now seek help at polyclinics — not all parents are as open.

At the third panel session of the Temasek Shophouse Conversations, panellists addressed how misconceptions among parents about seeking help for mental health issues could keep their children from the very assistance they need.

Harbouring worries that getting help will leave a black mark on their child’s permanent record that can later affect their employability as adults, some parents decline intervention.

Panellist Porsche Poh, Executive Director of Silver Ribbon (Singapore), called out this stigma, likening it to the assumption that a visit to the school counsellor’s office is an indictment that “oh, you did something wrong”.

She said: “[The school counsellor is associated with] disciplinary issues … can we try to look into that… to make it a safe space for students to speak comfortably and safely?”

Initiatives to address stigma will be developed by the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-Being, which was set-up to oversee national efforts to enhance the mental health and well-being of Singaporeans.

It will also explore potential issues surrounding the impact of seeking help for mental health in the longer term.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling, who was also on the panel, said the [Taskforce] is working to ramp up parents’ engagement with their children on mental wellness. For instance, it is working with parent support groups to develop resources as conversation starters on the subject.

Other Ways to Boost Mental Wellness

To engage more young people on mental health matters beyond the usual realms of social media and the education system, panellists shared suggestions and detailed the programmes they run.

Moderator Cho Ming Xiu, Founder and Executive Director of Campus PSY, a non-profit organisation focused on youth mental health, had asked how the public, private and community sectors could come together to help youth build better competencies and capacities to support them in their mental well-being.

Ms Colyn Chua, Head of mental health charity Jardines MINDSET, shared that her organisation supports initiatives such as short film competitions and industrial immersion sessions to spread the awareness of mental health and help youth better transition into the workforce respectively.

Ms Chua said: “We want to bring these youths out of excessive screen time usage, excessive cyber gaming, and gain social skills.” Another goal, she added, is to help youth “see what a career is like, (and) look and plan for their career in advance”.

The discussion continued with panellists sharing about the benefits of mindful living, pointing to activities such as reading, exercising, and making music, as lifestyle habits that can improve mental health.

Community spaces and activities can also make a world of difference, they said. People, for instance, have been more upbeat since the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.

Ms Tasneem Abdul Majeed, an ambassador for the Beyond the Label movement which tackles mental health stigma, proposed the addition of more safe spaces in neighbourhoods where young people can recharge, reflect, and reconnect with their thoughts and feelings.

She said: “It definitely helps to have safe spaces whether in the neighbourhood, or (as) an extension of a non-governmental organisation, or within a school, because sometimes all a young person needs is just time to reflect on their own personal well-being and cognition, and just take a breather from everyday life.”