According to the Singapore Mental Health Study, young adults (aged 18 to 34) are most at risk of suffering from mental health issues. On the other hand, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that Singapore has among the highest percentages of students – 78% – who fear failure. Social media, by inducing comparisons and facilitating cyberbullying, is another cause of stress.
The World Health Organization estimates that the global economy loses about US$1 trillion yearly due to mental health issues. Within Southeast Asia, Singapore is leading in terms of anti-stigmatisation campaigns and support resources.
36%: Percentage of people in low-income countries covered by mental health legislation
We’re increasingly having open conversations about mental health and, thanks to incubators and accelerators, we’re seeing more youth-led initiatives. But starting is easy; we need more mentors to help sustain their efforts.
We also need to work further on normalising help-seeking behaviour. In the United States and United Kingdom, seeing a therapist for mental illness is just like seeing a doctor for a cold. Tweaking manpower and healthcare policies – such as mandating insurance companies to cover mental health treatments, or preventing schools, employers and scholarship boards from requiring mental health declarations – would be instrumental in helping to encourage this. Continuous dialogue between youths and policymakers is key to the latter understanding and responding to concerns and challenges that youths face.
Friends are the first group of people whom most youths turn to for help, so it makes sense to train them to be the first line of defence. Youths make up about one million of Singapore’s total population – imagine how many we can help if just one-fifth of them are trained?
Campus PSY was started in 2016 to equip young people with mental health literacy and peer-helping skills. We try to build an ecosystem: We work with tertiary institutes to scale up peer-support networks, and we collaborate with social service agencies to impart essential skills such as risk identification and active listening. Making mental health education part of the curriculum is one of the best preventive measures we can undertake.
“It’s crucial to shift cultural attitudes to be accepting of people with mental health conditions.”
It’s also crucial to shift cultural attitudes to be accepting of people with mental health conditions. We try to make public education fun and relatable – in 2018, we did an escape room where participants learned to put themselves into the shoes of those with mental health issues. While Campus PSY mainly focuses on young people, we also try to reach out to family members and educators. To shift cultural attitudes, we need buy-in from all generations.
Illustrations by Kouzou Sakai
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This article was originally published in the March 2020 issue of SilverKris magazine