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  • Writer's pictureSingapore Children's Forum

How are you, really? Understanding the Mental Well-being of Children and Youths

The first thematic session of the SCF, which was open to the public, was on the topic of Mental Well-being of Children and Youths. We were delighted to have our youth participants join virtually on 7 August 2021. Adj A/Prof Daniel Fung, CEO of the Institute of Mental Health, and Ms. Julia Kwek, case worker, Youth Service @ Children’s Society, were our guest speakers.

Mental Health Literacy (For Youths) – Adj A/Prof Daniel Fung

A/P Fung kickstarted his presentation by distinguishing between disease, illness, and sickness. Disease refers to the pathological process; illness is the patient’s experience of the disease; and sickness is the role negotiated with society.

Using COVID-19 as an example, he explained how a person may have the virus (disease), experience minor side effects (illness), but have to be isolated (sickness). He then asked participants to consider if not having disease was equivalent to having health. This is because health, including mental health, is about being in a state of complete well-being and not merely the absence of mental disease.

He cited a research study carried out in 2016 amongst Singaporean youths, that 44.5% of respondents associated negative words such as “depressed”, “crazy”, and “different” with mental illness. In another study on mental health in Singapore that same year, 1 in 7 respondents experienced a mental health condition in their lifetime, but more than 75% did not seek help. Dr Fung stressed that mental illness should be given due treatment, as it means that the brain is not functioning as it is supposed to, and we need to be treated by a trained health professional.

However, he clarified that mental health is different from mental illness. He observed that mental health is dependent on stress. To put it loosely, if a person has lower stress, they are happier with their lives; if a person has higher stress, they are unhappier with their lives. If our brains are functioning as they are supposed to and helping us to cope with our mental health distress, there is no need for medical treatment. However, where stress is persistent and severe, Dr Fung encouraged participants to gain additional help from counsellors or therapists.

He concluded that it is important to improve awareness of mental sickness and its stigma, and to help ourselves and each other have better mental health.

Youth Mental Health – Ms Julia Kwek

Julia shared that adolescence is a period of rapid growth and significant changes, and our emotion regulation abilities affect how we adapt to these challenges and relate to those around us. She proposed Gilberts’ model (2009) whereby three main regulation systems consisting of those related to drive/excitement, connection/contentment and threat/protection work in balance to support our well-being.

She asked the youth participants if there are certain parts that are more easily activated than others. To illustrate a scenario where the threat system is overly activated, she cited the example of social anxiety where a person can be overly anxious about how others are looking at him/her in a social situation, making it hard to experience other emotions such as those related to connection.

Julia also shared some tips on how we can manage difficult feelings, such as through:

  • Acceptance – acknowledging how you are feeling and allowing yourself the permission to seek help and to rest

  • Commitment – acknowledging what is important to you, taking intentional action to pursue these things, taking small steps to get out of unhelpful patterns and celebrating these steps

Julia shared the illustration below to highlight that while difficult feelings may not diminish over time, we can allow ourselves to expand other areas of our lives to grow around these difficult experiences.

With that, she also shared how we can support others in authentic ways:

  1. To listen, and not be quick to give advice

  2. To hold space for the person

  3. To connect with those in distress

  4. To suggest an activity to do together

She highlighted that, while we support others, it is important to develop our own emotional boundaries so that we do not take on others’ emotions in unhealthy ways. This would also allow us to be better helpers.

Towards the closing of the session, time was given for Q&A. Many of the youth participants raised thought-provoking questions to which the speakers provided detailed responses that allowed for better understanding of this sensitive yet important topic.

Below are resources for getting help and support:

  • Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline:

6389-2222 (24 hours)​

  • Samaritans of Singapore: ​

1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /​ 1-767 (24 hours)​

  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: ​

1800-283-7019 ​(Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)​

  • Silver Ribbon Singapore: ​

6386-1928 / 6509-0271 ​(Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)

  • TOUCHline (Counselling):

1800-377-2252 ​(Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)​

  • Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: ​ website ​(Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, ​2pm to 5pm)

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