By Teo Jun Hua (19A01A)
No kidding, JC is a stressful place. While teachers and friends will be supportive where they can, sometimes even that isn’t enough; other times the inherent familiarity makes it even harder for us to open up to them about our personal struggles. It was to fill this need that the Peer Helpers Programme (PHP) was established in 2016, in response to the growing awareness that “most students would prefer to seek out their fellow students or peers for help, rather than their parents, teachers, or… counsellors.”
As our name implies, PHP is about helping your peers, and providing them with a support network they can fall back on in times of emotional duress. The programme itself lasts only a semester, and while that isn’t a lot of time, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to gain knowledge of and equip yourself with skills on the subject of peer helping over these 20 weeks.
In your first few sessions, you’ll begin by learning more about how to help yourself. No, we’re not talking about helping yourself get better grades — we’re talking about self-care! In PHP, it’s made clear from the outset that while helping our peers is our ultimate goal, we mustn’t forget that we as peer helpers are human too; we all need a break sometimes, after all (which you can get by dropping by My Rest Space!).
Having learnt about the importance of self-care and how to take care of ourselves, we then move on to the crux of the programme — learning techniques which enable us to become better peer helpers!
What is your conception of peer helping? Maybe you feel that helping a peer get back on their feet after they fall is peer helping. Maybe you feel that informing a sick friend of what happened in class during their absence is peer helping. Maybe, just maybe, you feel that giving relationship advice to your friend is peer helping. And, in all honesty, you wouldn’t be wrong. As a peer helper, however, you’ll come to learn that our form of peer helping manifests instead as listening, and listening attentively to whatever problem(s) your peer is opening up about. Throughout the programme, you’ll be exposed to a variety of listening techniques, amongst other more technical skills like how to facilitate a peer helping session. You will also get to learn more about a few common mental conditions, and what to do if you think that a friend is showing symptoms of a mental condition or simply not taking care of their mental health well enough. Of course, theory is merely theory, and so our teachers have aptly given us scenarios to hone our skills (after which we all chant: this is just pretend, this is just pretend, this is just pretend…).
Finally, the programme culminates in Career Day, a session where professionals in the mental health field are invited to talk more about their experiences and what they do. If you intend to or are interested in pursuing a career in mental health, this session will prove fairly helpful, and even if you aren’t, we promise that it’ll be an extremely enjoyable and enriching learning experience regardless!
As a peer helper, you’ll also get to go on two separate learning journeys! Where to? Well, it depends, but on our first learning journey, our batch went to the Teck Ghee Youth Centre, the Woodbridge Museum, and the Anglican Care Centre (Hougang).
Ultimately, these learning journeys serve to supplement a holistic approach towards our learning experience in PHP. Through these learning journeys, we are exposed to the multitude of mental health related facilities and institutions, allowing us to better understand both what is currently being done locally to either support those with mental conditions or promote good mental health, and the possible pathways we can take should we decide to work in a mental health related job.
So what do peer helpers do with all the skills they’ve learnt? Once the teachers trust that we’ve learned enough to be self-sufficient, we get to hold peer help sessions should any of our peers require one. Apart from this, another responsibility all peer helpers have is manning My Rest Space (MRS) for a minimum of 10 hours by the second term in Year 6. If you’re still curious where MRS is and what function it serves, it’s located at the Underground beside the biodiversity pond, and is essentially a place where students can unwind and escape from the bustle of school life.
There’s also Mental Health Awareness Week — in short, it’s a week-long event where peer helpers, after forming groups and coming up with a topic related to mental health, present their topic to the school in the canteen walkway!
At this juncture, you may be asking yourself still: should I join PHP? I would provide a checklist of necessary traits a prospective peer helper should have, but it simply doesn’t exist. As long as you feel strongly about helping your peers, and are willing to learn, I’d say: give it a shot!
At the end of the day, I’d like to believe that PHP is more than just a Monday elective. To me, the programme is akin to electricity, and we as peer helpers are light bulbs. While each one of us is only able to brighten up a small section of the room – attesting to the fact that we aren’t counselors, and that we can’t help everyone – there is ultimately more light than before. And that in itself is beautiful, don’t you feel*?
*For more information on MHAW 2018, visit this link!