Embrace; – Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

By Angus Yip (18A01A)

Photos courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society

Singapore is a society characterised by a fast pace of life; long hours at work and school have become a norm, creating an environment that has regularly been described as a “pressure cooker”. The number of stressed-out people is on the rise, and it has been estimated that one in six Singaporeans suffer from some form of mental illness.

In such an environment, it is imperative that we are aware of the importance of taking care of our mental health, as well as knowing about the methods we can do so. Of similar importance is that we know how to support others. To that end, the Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP) recently organised the Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW).

This year’s MHAW was themed “Embrace;”, encapsulating PHP’s aspiration: to be inclusive of those around us who suffer from mental illnesses. As Ms Woo Mei Hui, PHP teacher-in-charge and counsellor at the Raffles Guidance Centre, put it, “It’s about building a culture of acceptance in RI through raising awareness about mental illness. We want to build a student-driven community that stands together to help one another.”

In fact, PHP’s theme could also be seen as reflective of its desire to build a greater sense of awareness of how we can be more accepting of ourselves, whether through more consciously taking care of our mental health or seeking help through appropriate channels when needed.

A key focus of MHAW this year was how we can manage of our own mental health. Booths, set up near the canteen, displayed infographics about mental health and mental illness – while some focused on information about specific mental illnesses, others were more general, discussing different ways for us to destress amidst our hectic schedules.

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Infographics were set up to help students learn more about different types of mental illnesses, as well as different ways to improve our mental well-being.

In addition, pamphlets were also distributed as a way for students to learn more about the different avenues one can turn to for help should the need arise. The underlying message was clear: there is no need to feel ashamed if one wishes to seek help regarding their mental health.

The Sleep Clinic was another highlight of MHAW that intrigued many. For this, the old My Rest Space venue (opposite the Underground) was converted into an area for students to take much-needed naps, with mats laid out and alarm clocks handed to students. For many, the opportunity to get some sleep was a brief respite from the hectic school day, as well as a reminder of the importance of getting enough sleep (something that most students, myself included, fail to achieve for one reason or another).

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Peer Helpers setting up for the Sleep Clinic.

Another key area of focus this year was how we can build a more inclusive society for those suffering from mental illnesses. Some of the infographics set up focused on less well-known mental illnesses, such as dissociative disorder and depersonalisation disorder. Through training the spotlight on these conditions, the Peer Helpers hoped that others would gain a greater understanding of them and hence become less dismissive of more uncommon illnesses.

Particularly noteworthy was the booth set up by Peer Helper Huang Huanyan (18A03A). To complement her infographic about borderline personality disorder, she displayed a picture book that she designed herself for others to read. By depicting a tale of a woman who found herself incapable of being understood by others because of her condition, this picture book was an extremely unique method of helping others realise the importance of being accepting of others.

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Huanyan’s picture book about borderline personality disorder was interesting and informative.

Project Stick-ma was another memorable project that aimed to destigmatise mental illness. Students were asked to write words of motivation on Post-it notes to the wider school population. These post-its were then pasted on a board, and all the Post-its formed the shape of a heart – a clear nod back to MHAW’s theme, “Embrace;”.

In a similar vein, Project Postbox gave students the chance to write well-meaning notes of encouragement to friends, which were then distributed during morning assembly. Seeing these personalised notes definitely brought warm smiles to many people’s faces. Not only was this a boost of motivation, but it also brought forth the message that we can all play a part in building a more inclusive society by supporting others.

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In Project Stick-ma, students wrote post-its with words of encouragement, pasting them on a board to form a heart.

On the whole, MHAW was a very timely reminder of the importance of taking care of one’s mental well-being. It was also an opportunity for others to reflect: Are we doing enough to create a culture of acceptance? Are we being dismissive about the prevalence of mental illness, and in doing so, stifling the voices of those who want to talk about it? In a society where mental illnesses are seen by many as a “taboo” topic, such opportunities are particularly important. It was heartwarming to see other students take a greater role in raising awareness about a topic dear to their hearts.

However, while it is extremely heartening that such a platform exists and more events like this should be organised, awareness campaigns can only do so much. At the end of the day, it is up to us to create a more supportive environment for others, and this writer looks forward to a day when we are able to do so.

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