Session 1: State of youth mental health and challenges in access to and provision of interventions

20 May 2022

Impact of COVID-19 on Youth Mental Health

While social media use has accounted for many mental health issues that teens struggle with, COVID-19 has also had a significant impact on the state of mind among youths. A population survey during the circuit breaker period in Singapore showed that apart from stress caused by isolation, stress caused by family members working or staying at home had a spillover effect onto children and school-going teenagers. Data shows that resilience – a calibration of an individual’s ability to cope with stress – can lessen with age. Positive self-image and building of relationships are protective factors against self-harm and suicidal ideation. The teenagers of today need to be helped, guided and mentored to develop a sense of purpose. This can include redefining the model of success to look beyond academic results to include processes and relationships, as well as socio-emotional learning.

Contributors to Poor Mental Health among Youth

Among young people, self-stigma is more significant than social stigma as they are more willing to help others rather than themselves; they tend not to seek help for themselves. Mental health problems among youths are highly associated with relationships. For young people, how their parents feel about them, how their teachers think of them and how their peers relate with them are crucial. There is a need for more interpersonal therapies to be developed. Adverse childhood experiences contribute to poor mental health among youths. Mental illnesses in adults are determined by their mental health as infants, young children and adolescents. Protective factors and positive contributors to mental health include gratitude, a sense of coherence and resilience.

Stigma and Challenges in Accessing Care

Stigma associated with mental health includes public, systemic and self-stigma. Education to correct misconception, supportive parents and friends all play a huge role in the strength-finding journey. The language we use and focusing on the strengths of youth are also important in stopping self-stigma with compassion. Having an interagency task force to look at the mental health and wellbeing of our country also sends an important message to Singaporeans that this is a shared care and a shared responsibility. There are effective treatments, medicines and interventions and there have also been efforts to open up conversations, increase access to care and have mental health care included in insurance coverage. From the youth perspective, obstacles to seeking help include the lack of knowledge, not knowing when, why or how to seek care, feeling embarrassed, not knowing who they can trust or whether they will be understood, as well as structural issues such as long wait times.