Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State, Ministry of Education at the Second Silver Ribbon Mental Health Awards Ceremony on 7 December 2021

Published Date: 07 December 2021 12:00 PM

News Speeches

1. Good morning everyone, and thank you for inviting me to the second edition of the Silver Ribbon Mental Health Awards Ceremony.

2. My great thanks to Ms Ellen Lee, President of Silver Ribbon (Singapore). In her speech earlier, she had shared the long journey that Silver Ribbon has embarked on.

3. Mental Health is not just something that you deal with now, for COVID-19. In fact, Silver Ribbon has been hard at work since 15 years ago, when you started out in 2006. And I think today, even as we celebrate the awards, it is also a time for us to reflect and look at the good work that Silver Ribbon has been doing over the years.

Student Mental Well-Being

4. Indeed, mental health is something that concerns each and every one of us, because mental well-being issues can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, background, race, or religion. Mental health problems can be triggered by a whole host of factors.

5. But we also know that the situation around COVID-19 has turbocharged certain negative emotional well-being issues and has brought mental well-being issues to the fore.

6. December is often a time for us to pause and reflect, and I think we can all agree that COVID-19 has disrupted the way we live, study, and work, and as a nation we are still trying to live with and proceed as a COVID-resilient nation.

7. In education, we have strived to keep the pandemic's impact to learning as minimal as possible. We have largely kept schools open, and teaching and learning going. But I'm sure that all of us on this call today can attest that it has not been the same, as we have had to reconfigure or even suspend many activities that are important features of school life, like Co-Curricular Activities, Learning Journeys, and outdoor camps. We're looking forward to a more stable COVID-19 situation, and with the appropriate safeguards, we plan to resume more elements of school life next year.

8. But first, I'd like to acknowledge some of the sentiments and feelings that our young people have about how COVID-19 has impacted their mental well-being. This also goes to some of the feedback that Ms Ellen Lee had shared earlier.

9. Many young people have shared that mental well-being issues can be triggered by a whole host of factors. This includes parental expectations, personal expectations for themselves, and also unfortunately, the disruptions that COVID-19 has caused to their education and career plans, which has added uncertainty to their lives. Also, COVID-19 has resulted in more young people feeling lonely. They're not able to interact with their friends as often as before, and they're not able to engage in many social activities, like sport activities or going to the movies with friends. We have definitely moved on since the circuit breaker last year, but I think many young people are still conscious about social distancing measures, and it has still impacted their social lives.

10. At MOE, we are committed to supporting students, even as they wrestle with these mental well-being issues. Our schools and Institutes of Higher Learning take a multi-pronged approach to create as supportive an environment as possible for our students. They aim to equip students with necessary skills, such as how to recognise stress. Our teachers, staff, and counsellors have also been alerted and trained to identify signs of distress in their students. They take on the additional responsibilities of the well-being of their students, and step in to provide guidance and support where necessary. Schools and IHLs also have peer support structures in place to encourage students to look out for one another. Where necessary, students will be referred to in-house counsellors or mental health professionals for additional support.

11. But we know that there's always more to be done. I would like to acknowledge some points that Ms Ellen Lee had brought up in her earlier speech.

12. Firstly, any work on mental well-being issues has to be a whole of society effort. It's not just what the schools do, not just what the students do, but we also have to engage the family members and parents of our students.

13. Ms Ellen Lee had talked about three areas which has been areas of concern for students, parents, and the community. Firstly, stigma. She had shared that some young people were concerned that sharing about mental well-being issues was a reflection of being weak. We recognise this, and that is why you will see that there are many campaigns that we have ongoing – the most recently launched campaign is " It's okay to reach out". We want to normalise conversations around mental well-being issues, to let young people, and in fact a whole society know, that it's okay to reach out. To reach out, to want to talk to someone, to find out what are the various channels that are available to them, as they try to overcome mental well-being issues.

14. Secondly, Ms Ellen Lee had talked about parents, where parents felt that they were not equipped to talk about mental health, and where they were concerned that any discussion about their child's mental well-being issues may leave a black mark on their child's record.

15. I'd like to share that I'm currently a member of the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being. This is chaired by Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Janil Puthucheary. I am there in my capacity as the Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development. One of the things we are trying to do is to work actively with parents, and we are doing so via our Parent Support Groups. MOE will be making more announcements in the next couple of months, but one key area of work is how we actually equip our parents with basic mental health as well as cyber wellness skills. Because we realise that parents may not know what is the appropriate language to use when their children share with them a mental health issue. We have seen that parents want to be updated and they want to see how they can help their children. MOE is looking into toolkits, as well as competency frameworks, to help our parents level up so they are able to have healthy and meaningful conversations with their children on mental well-being as well as cyber wellness.

16. Apart from that, we are also looking to identify where there may be perceptions or misperceptions about how sharing about mental well-being issues can leave a black mark on track records. We want to assure parents that we have the best intentions for their child, and where we refer to mental health professionals to help the child, it is with the intention to help the child get better, and we will do so with the parent's consent.

17. Lastly, we acknowledge that young people have shared that they do not know where to go to look for mental health resources. And that is why recently we have announced that we are launching a national mental health portal, where there will be information and resources on mental well-being, as well as details on the community service partners who can provide counselling services, so that our young people will know where to go to seek help.

18. Apart from that, MOE is also placing an increased emphasis on mental well-being and cyber wellness issues through our updated Character and Citizenship Education curriculum.

19. I also co-chair COMPASS, which is a community of parents in support of schools, and we're looking into initiatives to work closely with parents to enhance their understanding of mental well-being. We also want to kickstart projects in individual schools to help our parents and children talk about mental well-being.

20. Supporting the mental health of our youth indeed takes a whole of society approach. We will be working with parents and community groups as part of broader efforts to build and strengthen our caring and enabling society - one that gives greater attention to the mental well-being of our young.

Silver Ribbon's Mental Health Awards

21. I'd now like to touch on Silver Ribbon's mental health awards. There are many meaningful and important efforts made by our schools and institutions in their promotion of mental health.

22. For example, one of the winning projects today is the Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 by Singapore Management University, which took place in October this year. SMU used a creative way to introduce concepts about mental health and wellness by organising a virtual Escape Room where participants learnt about mental health through puzzles and quizzes.

23. We also have another example from the Methodist Girls' School. The school's Peer Support Leaders organised a Mental Health Awareness Week in July, where they designed posters and videos to convey facts and tips about mental wellness and self-care. Through this, the peer support leaders encouraged their peers to seek help where needed. A panel of youth volunteers was also invited to share about stress management during the school assembly.

Closing

24. I think these stories give us hope because it is only by working together that we can build a society where children and youth feel supported and comfortable to reach out for help when they need to.

25. I look forward to the sharing by award recipients on how you are promoting mental health within your schools and institutions. I hope your stories will inspire many more Singaporeans and groups to play their part to support mental health and well-being. Every step counts, because it can make our society a kinder, more compassionate, and more inclusive home to live in. Thank you.

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