RSS Mental Health Strand

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By Bryan Ling (17S06C) and Jeanne Tan (17A01B)

Mental health is an often overlooked but vital aspect of health and wellbeing. With the introduction of the Peer Helper’s Programme and Mental Health Awareness Week in recent years, there is no doubt that efforts have been made to create a platform for mental health education in RI.

This year at the Raffles Science Symposium, the Raffles Guidance Centre extended this platform further, showcasing their own Mental Health strand for the first time. With a variety of speakers and visitors from other schools, this was a diverse beginning to this new RSS strand.

The day started off with an opening address by Dean of Character and Citizenship Education, Ms Melissa Lim. Sharing her personal experiences growing up next to Woodbridge Hospital, Ms Lim emphasized the importance of pushing past the “residual fear” surrounding mental illness and offering support and help to those who need it.

Ms Melissa Lim addressing the crowd.

In his keynote speech, HOD Mr Gary Koh shared tips on building resilience, highlighting how hardship can assist in the process. A short personal quiz was also distributed, allowing participants to better understand their own areas of resilience and relative fragility.

Mr Gary Koh with his friend “Leo” – always getting up after getting knocked down.

In order to build resilience, Mr Koh focused on 6 key lessons to keep in mind whilst going through the trials of daily life.

Fail forward not backward

“100 percent of people will experience failure in their lives.  That’s just a part of it.”  Though we may face many setbacks in life, we must recognize that these are inevitable, and “be better not bitter” – taking these failures as an opportunity to grow rather than to wallow in self pity.

Look at what you have rather than what you don’t have.

In life, it’s important for us to look on the bright side of things and appreciate what we have rather than sulking and complaining about what we’re missing.  Not only does this encourage positive thinking, cultivating and leveraging our strengths can also aid us in achieving greater success.

Get rid of stinking thinking

In a similar vein, we should also be mindful and aware of negative thoughts that may spontaneously manifest in ourselves.  Allowing such negative sentiments to dominate us would naturally result in a negative attitude.  And though sometimes we cannot help but think such thoughts, simply being aware and mindful of their negative nature can greatly assist in reducing their hold on us.

Develop Healthy Relationships

We can be easily affected by the emotions of those around us.  That’s why it’s important for us to develop and grow healthy relationships with loving, encouraging friends and family.  And much like how being around constantly negative people may induce negative thoughts, being surrounded by positivity will likewise lead to a more positive outlook.

Create a clear plan of action

Setting specific goals not only helps us strive towards measurable achievement, but also rewards us with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  Furthermore, brainstorming ideas to go about reaching these goals can be a good way to come up with a plan of action.

Live for a cause greater than yourself

Finally, finding a cause greater than yourself can also be a potent source of motivation and resilience.  Be it volunteering for your local VWO or independently engaging in community advocacy, knowing that we stand for something larger than ourselves can give us the strength to get up and try again – especially when our own strength fails us.

Speakers from the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) came on next, providing information on the services provided by their various branches, and in particular sharing their occupational and outdoor therapy philosophies. Creative SAY, their upcoming platform to complement the existing facility Creative Hub, was also introduced to us, broadening our perspective on different methods of mental health recovery and psychological wellness.

Peer specialist Ms Lim, also from SAMH, followed up.  An alumnus of RI, Ms Lim served a special capacity as a peer specialist – someone who had experienced mental health issues in the past, and thus has a unique and valuable perspective for counselling.

Ms Lim elaborating on the debilitating effects of stigma.

In her peer sharing session, Ms Lim further shared her personal journey to mental wellness, and gave words of encouragement and advice for those struggling with mental health issues, giving hope and inspiration for a bright future even for those with mental illnesses.

Counsellor Ms Valentia Ary, also from SAMH, talked about the nature of counselling, and briefly delved into various counselling strategies used by professional counsellors, such as Illness Management Recovery (a support system focusing on developing interpersonal, social, and problem solving skills) and Wellness Recovery Action Plan (recovery work based on key concepts of hope, personal responsibility, education, self-advocacy, and support). In so doing, she demystified the field of counselling considerably, and clarified up many questions on how counselling procedures actually work.

Team Mental Muscle – a medical student group from NUS, the team embarked on a 200km run in the Kathmandu rim in order to raise funds and awareness about mental illness. Team members Keith Ching, Huang Juncheng, and Hargaven Singh shared their experience preparing and executing the project, as well as providing advice on carrying out our own advocacy projects. The team’s evident passion and enthusiasm incited us to think more about what we could do to aid the cause.

Hargaven Singh reflecting on the journey the team went through.

Finally, Raffles Peer Helper He Zhou Zhou presented her research study Stress: A wave in the mind. A self-initiated research project, Zhou Zhou interviewed several Rafflesians about their stress levels and ways that they handled stress.

Her results were (sadly) unsurprising – a significant proportion of Rafflesians display symptoms of severe stress. Thankfully, it seemed that many Rafflesians were indeed aware of methods to manage their stress levels.

Zhou Zhou further suggested several methods of handling stress – most importantly, practicing mindfulness and being more aware of one’s own emotional and mental state.

Peer helper Zhou Zhou presenting her findings.

This being the first year of the mental health segment of RSS, the pool of attendees was small. But it was heartening to see not only interested J1s, but also students from other schools, who attended this symposium to learn more about the movement for mental health in Singapore.

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With Mental Health Awareness Week, Peer Helpers Programme, and now Mental Health Strand, Raffles Guidance Centre will no doubt continue its efforts in cultivating a positive environment for mental wellness in the future.

This area of student development is steadily growing in its presence, and hopefully through more effort and time, mental health will become an area that RI will prioritise, to create a healthier, more knowledgeable environment for us to spend our most critical student years in.

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