FEEL: Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

Reading Time: 10 minutes

By Mabel Yet (19S03Q) and Varun Karthik (19S06A)
Photos courtesy of Kathryn Oei (19A01A) from Raffles Photographic Society

In a perfectly ordered universe, we would hop out of our beds each morning at the keen ringing of our alarms. We’d buzz with energy as we attend all of our lectures and produce top-notch grades almost effortlessly. And we’d never break or buckle even under mounting pressure.

On the surface, it seems like everyone has got their act together, as we are expected to have. Having been blessed with so many privileges–from having a proper education to not having to worry about your next meal–it’s only expected that our lives ought to be impeccable and Oh So Wonderful. Yet, it is these expectations that have shrouded the difficult topic of mental health in shadow.

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Interactive booths set up along the canteen walkway to prompt students to initiate conversations on mental health. 

In a bid to shed light on mental health disorders and encourage the school population to take care of their mental health, Raffles PHP (Peer Helpers Programme) organised Mental Health Awareness Week from 23-27 July. Through sharing sessions, goodie bags, and interactive booths that lined the canteen walkway, students got a glimpse into the lives of sufferers of rarer mental health disorders and were reminded of the importance of being kind not only to others, but to ourselves as well.

Interpersonal connection

Since entering JC, many have lamented that it’s become increasingly difficult to know someone on a deeper level. Friendships, left to the test of time and unforgiving busyness, seem to have been reduced to ‘hi’s and ‘bye’s (exchanged ritualistically in a span of five seconds, no more no less) as we hurry off to our next commitments.

“Though everyone’s all caught up with their own lives, it’s important to have people you have a deeper connection with,” Rama Venkatesh (19S03Q) commented, “Otherwise you’ll end up keeping everything to yourself.”

Through conversation cards and a photobooth, Interpersonal Connection urges us to strive to forge authentic connections with their friends. These cards remind us to spend ‘real’ quality time with others, to actively engage with and listen to them to show that we care. And in a school where everyone seems to be caught up in their own lives, it’s especially important for us to keep reaching out. We promise it’s worth the effort.

A Touch Journey

An explanation of various stress-relieving methods.

It’s convenient to associate others’ stellar grades with just intelligence, hard work and discipline, to assume the route to such flourishing success is smooth-sailing and free from adversities. Yet, it’s important to realise that no one’s lives are as simple as we think. Whether we are battling with relationships, academics, hardships or with ourselves (or all of the above), we all experience stress at some point or another, and have to find avenues to let them out.

“As our theme is ‘feel’, the first thing I thought of was [our sense of] touch,” Peer Helper Teo Jun Hua (19A01A) quipped. “We wanted to do something more experiential that can promote mental health, while being more physical at the same time.”  

Indeed, with boxes of bubble wrap and recycled magazine pages free for us to wreck, A Touch Journey brings us through (hopefully) surefire ways to release our pent-up frustration.

“The Paper ‘Tear’-apy was especially well-received,” Jun Hua conveyed. Inspired by Singapore’s first ever rage room (where participants can smash things to their heart’s desire for a much-needed anger therapy), the idea of ruthlessly tearing up magazines definitely drew crowds, evident from the box brimming with scraps of discarded paper.

Besides the above methods, the booth also suggests doing yoga and breathing exercises to relieve the tension in our bodies. While they might not automatically take your problems away, taking out time for yourself clears your mind. Especially in our daily hustles, knowing when to take a breather is especially crucial — don’t beat yourself up over it.  

ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response)

Most people have some idea what ASMR is about, or at least they think they do. They might have seen a playlist on Spotify or heard one of their friends casually drop the abbreviation during a conversation. However, as much as the term ASMR has became a buzzword, the unfortunate reality is that most people do not know what ASMR actually is.

This gap in knowledge is what the posters attempted to fill by educatingvisitors about what ASMR really is, the sources of ASMR and its purported benefits. It also aimed to inform visitors about the tangible ways one could use ASMR as a form of stress-relief. This was accompanied by an interactive booth consisting of slime, synthetic clay and cloths (amongst others), where they attempted to stimulate and give visitors some of these alleged ASMR “tingles”.

Stick your hand in to get some ASMR “tingles”, if you’re lucky.

“Our objectives were to introduce the school population to ASMR audios as an outlet for stress relief and also conduct a small experiment on whether students did actually get the physical ASMR sensation!” Rayna Mak (19S03O) explained, “What many people don’t realise is that ASMR can actually act as a healthy form of stress relief, so we wanted to make the benefits of ASMR more well-known in school.”

As for the effectiveness of the project, the writers were listening to a newly discovered ASMR playlist on Spotify as they finished up this article. Give it a try and let us know if you get any of these purported tingles.

Project Love Yourself

The ‘bad’ mirror, which reflected the disparaging thoughts of someone with negative body image.

‘Why do I not have clear skin? I hate how I look. Why are my thighs so big?’ These were some of the things scribbled on the ‘bad mirror’, which reflected the self-deprecating thoughts of someone with negative body image.

How often have such thoughts crossed your mind and lodged themselves there? How many times a day do you mirror-check only to feel even more dissatisfied with how you look? Whether consciously or unconsciously, rarely do most of us get through a day without criticising ourselves. In our pursuit to reach a warped ‘ideal’, we neglect to embrace ourselves for who we are, instead choosing to pick apart our flaws and compare ourselves with everyone else.

“Everyone has experienced bad days when they think they don’t look good enough,” Peer Helper Pavithra (19S03A) shared on the motivations behind choosing to do this topic. “But it isn’t talked about enough.”

Though females are more commonly associated with having negative body image, men face increasing pressure to ‘look perfect’ as well (and to have hyper-muscular psychiques, despite how everyone’s body is built differently). “[Through our project,] we want to show that guys face such issues too,” added Peer Helper Samyuktha (19S03A).

But all hope isn’t lost. Opposite the ‘bad’ mirror is the ‘good’ mirror, where students were to write something nice about themselves. This activity reminds us to be kind to the body we inhabit, to shift our focus from our perceived flaws to the things we are capable of doing instead. After all, you are your own kind of beautiful.

Project U and I

Undertaking an issue that Rafflesians are probably extremely familiar with poses its own set of risks and challenges. Yet, this group boldly broached the topic of Failure, one that is close to the hearts of many. After all, it is a problem that almost everyone has had brushes with. Each one of us has had varying experiences and thus opinions.

The message of their booth was simple: Given both the prevalence of failure and the fact that failure is something very personal to an individual, we should constantly remind ourselves and our friends that our failures do not determine our worth or how good we are.

Besides the booth, the team also organised a sharing session on 25 July. In a small and intimate group, all attendees were engaged by the speakers in a free-wheeling conversation about failure. Experiences were shared and bottled-up emotions were vented. But most importantly, the event got the attendees to look at failure in a different, more nuanced light.

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Mr Chin Sun Yih, an old-boy from the batch of 1982, kickstarted the session with the lessons he had learnt about failure throughout his life. From retaining a year in JC to having to shutter his business after 10 years, and having to tirelessly work his way up and eventually thrive in his new field, his story was captivating and inspired us. His advice and take on failure also resonated with many.

He was followed shortly after by Mr Wahid, a GP relief tutor and also an old boy, who shared his own JC experiences from the not-too distant past. Lastly, Jing Rong (18A03A) wrapped up the first half by sharing about her unconventional schooling life and her unique perspectives towards failure in the education system, or really, various education systems spanning multiple countries and multiple schools.  

The second half took the form of a discussion where all the participants shared their own experiences dealing with failure and the lessons they had learnt from them. Participants were given the opportunity to hear a multitude of opinions and thoughts, encouraging them to reflect anew upon their own setbacks.

When asked about how the sharing session went, Charis Ng (19S03B), who is part of Project U and I, wittly remarked, “We don’t know if it was a failure or not. But if it was, it doesn’t matter — it just proves our point.”

Synesthesia: Uniting the senses

Have you ever wondered how it would be like to be able to taste sound, see scents or smell colours?

Booth explaining the abstract concept of Synesthesia.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition where people experience “crossed” responses to stimuli. For example, associating words with taste or sounds with colours. For most people unaware of this condition, it sounds rather abstract and mind-boggling, leading to a lack of empathy towards synesthetes because it sounds like they’re just ‘making it up’.

In an attempt to shed light on this rather obscure neurological disorder, this booth explains how living with synesthesia can be emotionally trying, especially when his/her peers are less than understanding. However, many regard their condition as a gift instead — a stark example being that of Melissa McCracken, who translates the sounds she hears everyday into spectacular artworks.

As an artist with synesthesia, Melissa McCracken uses her gift to ‘paint music’. Source 

Through an exploration of this unique neurological condition, students managed to get a glimpse into the stimulating world a synesthete navigates daily, evoking both empathy and admiration for the synesthetes scattered among our population.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

Most of us have heard the term thrown around so casually that we might have become desensitized to it. Yet, we fail to realise that ADHD is a real mental disorder affecting many in our midst.

Given that statistics show that 1 in 10 school-aged children are affected by ADHD, what are the odds that one of the children you have interacted with while volunteering or one of your friend’s younger siblings have this condition? In spite of this, we persist in painting all individuals with ADHD with broad stereotypes and hasty assumptions. This very trend is precisely what the group in charge of said booth is trying to reverse.

When approached about his group’s project, Andrew Lau from class 19A01B shared that his group “wanted to raise awareness about ADHD, especially since [they] felt it was a term thrown around without much understanding of what it exactly constitutes.”

While their booth might not immediately shatter all stigma attached to ADHD, it does educate students and get them to reflect upon their own words and actions. Hopefully, it also acts as a starting point for difficult conversations and discussions about a condition that afflicts many around us.

Heart on My Sleeve

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Heart on My Sleeve aims to get students to be honest and open about their feelings.

Borderline Personality Disorder: we all know the meaning of these three words individually, but our knowledge ends when you put them together. In order to create awareness for this rarer disorder, this team characterized the symptoms and signs of BPD, as well as shared about the various ways to manage BPD.

Students were also encouraged to write down their feelings and stick it on their sleeves. “[We aim] to get people to be honest with how they feel and express it,” Peer Helper Ying Ting (19S06F) explained.

Learning about BPD is very different from learning to identify signs of BPD in those around us, or even in ourselves. Being well-informed about the condition might not adequately prepare us for a situation where someone we know personally suffers from BPD (which is more likely to occur than we allow ourselves to believe). Nonetheless,  this is a necessary starting point in creating awareness for a prevalent yet often ignored condition.

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Remember that your feelings are validated—be honest with yourself about them!

While such awareness campaigns can fill in the gaps in our knowledge of mental health and encourage us to think more deeply about ourselves, our surroundings and our actions, there is only so much that can be brought across in one week.

Having difficult conversations about mental health requires every one of us to be open-minded and engage one another in a mature and rational manner. Though we can never completely shatter the taboo around mental health disorders, we can be more conscious of our actions and understand the weight our casual comments hold.

In the end, it boils down to every one of us. In the midst of our relentless pursuits, let us not forget to reach out to the individuals around us—we’d never know much it’ll mean to them.

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