Speech by Minister of State for Education Ms Sun Xueling, at the Mental Health e-Conference

Published Date: 08 October 2021 11:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Lim Kok Kiang

Principal, Ngee Ann Polytechnic,

Mr Mark Lim

Director, The Social Quotient,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It is my pleasure to join you at today's inaugural Mental Health e-Conference entitled 'Mastery of Heart and Mind'. The conference aims to shed light on mental health issues and help participants gain a deeper understanding on how to foster early help-seeking behaviours.

2. Mental health took the spotlight at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where United States gymnast Simone Biles chose to withdraw from certain events, citing the need to safeguard her mental wellbeing. This came after tennis star Naomi Osaka had also withdrawn from tournaments and press conferences, citing the need to take care of her mental health. Mental health struggles affect us all, regardless of age, gender and social status—even athletes who are trained daily to push the limits of the human body and learn mental fortitude and resilience. It also shows us the importance of prioritising our mental health and seeking early intervention so that we can all be the best version of ourselves.

3. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the stressors affecting people's mental health, including our students and youth. A recent survey conducted by the Institute of Mental Health in May 2020 to June 2021 revealed that close to 13 per cent of the over 1,000 respondents polled reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic. This is concerning, and we need to do more to address and enhance mental health.

4. We must continue to raise awareness on mental health issues among our youth and community, destigmatise it, and foster early help-seeking behaviour.

What Can We Do?

Strengthening Mental Health Literacy

5. What can we as a community do? One key way is to strengthen students' mental health literacy. As part of Mental Health Education in the enhanced Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum, students in schools learn how to develop healthy mindsets, habits and skills to strengthen their mental health and be resilient in the face of challenges. Building on these efforts, the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) have year-round mental health programmes and activities to provide students with basic knowledge of mental well-being and to help them build resilience. For example, the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) have introduced a mental wellness literacy curriculum for all Year 1 students, which aims to raise awareness and understanding of mental health and encourage early help-seeking behaviour.

Peer Support

6. Second, we must foster a more caring and supportive environment, which includes strengthening our safety net to support students' mental well-being. In schools and IHLs, a key component of this safety net is peer support, where students look out for one another, offer a listening ear, and encourage their peers in distress to reach out to a trusted adult or other channels for support. This is a critical strategy as youths are more likely to turn to their friends for support when they feel anxious, stressed or upset.

7. The Ministry of Education has been working closely with schools and IHLs to strengthen peer support structures.

8. For example, since 2018, Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) has been equipping interested students to be peer supporters. Peer supporters are trained on key skillsets such as befriending, active listening, recognising signs of distress, and the importance of self-care. With these skills, they will be better equipped to lend a listening ear to a friend encountering difficulties, show empathy and care, and encourage help-seeking from lecturers or counsellors. NP peer supporters also raise awareness on mental health through various student-led initiatives. For example, they recently started a podcast series "Peerz in a Pod" to cover issues such as mental health stigma, coping with school stress and cyber wellness.

9. Currently, NP has about 600 students trained as peer supporters. It aims to train 1,200 students annually, with the goal to have one in four students equipped with such skills. This is part of NP's wider efforts to develop a stronger support network and culture of care among students.

10. I am heartened by NP's efforts and would like to encourage students to make use of this support network, such as by undergoing the training to be better placed to look out for your peers. Small actions can make a big difference for someone in need. You can make a positive difference simply by being more observant, reaching out to others with words of encouragement, or just being there with a listening ear.

Community Partnerships

11. Community partnership is another key pillar. The promotion of mental well-being is the effort of a spectrum of professionals such as psychologists, counsellors, educators, educational therapists and social workers from both the public and private sector. This conference itself is an example of public-private partnerships contributing towards increased awareness and societal acceptance of mental health issues. The speakers in this conference will share some coping strategies for students and mental health resources. I encourage all of us to make use of them.

De-Stigmatising Mental Health Issues

12. Finally, it is crucial that we work towards removing the social stigma surrounding mental health issues, including help-seeking behaviour. Very often, mental health conditions are misperceived as "character deficiencies", the supposed result of a lack of self-discipline or willpower. A 2020 study in Singapore by researchers from the Institute of Mental Health also shows how stigma towards mental health is intertwined with and further entrenched by cultural beliefs, such as the notion of a loss in "face" or societal standing.

13. We must do more to address these negative perceptions. I am greatly encouraged by the 'Beyond the Label' movement, started by the National Council of Social Service. By celebrating the resilience of persons in recovery from mental health conditions, and sparking more conversations on mental health, the movement seeks to change and influence public attitudes towards persons with mental health conditions.

14. I have been working closely with a group of IHL students and young adults, as part of the Youth Mental Well-being Network, on "Project It'll Be Alright". This project collects stories of hope, from individuals who had battled mental health issues. Hopefully, these stories will serve as a source of inspiration and bring light to those who are going through a difficult time.

15. I hope that more individuals and organisations will do their part to de-stigmatise mental health issues, and help make ours a more caring and empathetic society. Remember that all of us, in one way or another, will need a helping hand in this journey of life. Seeking help is not a weakness—it is a sign of resilience, strength, and self-awareness.

Conclusion

16. In closing, I would like to congratulate NP and The Social Quotient in organising this inaugural mental health e-conference. Thank you all for being a part of this important discussion. I wish everyone a fruitful conference ahead.

17. Thank you.

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