By Benjamin Liew (20A03A) and Tay Jing Xuan (20S03C)
Often we are told, as students, to achieve only the best and to be perfect. What does it mean to be perfect, though? Is it straight ‘A’s? Is it playing a 7-minute musical piece flawlessly from beginning to end? Or is it, as what many people think, infallibility and invincibility?
The truth is, if we go with that definition, no one is perfect, nor can they ever be perfect. Our minds are not like machines—we need rest and recuperation, and even machines require maintenance from time to time. So what really is perfection, then? Well, many of us often hyperfixate on a grade or a part of our bodies and beat ourselves up for it. But we fail to realise that academic achievements and appearances do not determine our worth, and that is what ultimately damages our self-esteem and hinders our self-acceptance.
Every person has their own set of unique abilities, personalities, bodies. If we judge everyone by the same standards, wouldn’t it be unfair? Therefore, with that in mind, the Peer Helpers’ Programme set out to spread awareness of mental illnesses, with the main focus being self-esteem and acceptance. Although mental illnesses affect such a significant portion of people, the stigma against it prevents people from speaking up about it or receiving treatment. And as for self-esteem, in the end, perfection is in the eye of the beholder. When one thinks, feels and knows that they are perfect the way they are, despite all their perceived flaws, are they truly perfect.
Mental illnesses come in different forms and affect people in dramatically different ways. Having some awareness of them is thus a good way to help people around you who may be suffering from them.
Just outside the canteen, there were booths and posters set up to explain the symptoms of various mental illnesses. Examples included Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as facts to dispel myths about these illnesses and ways to help sufferers. One booth talked about schizophrenia and its symptoms, with colourful and detailed infographics about its causes and myths. The posters were certainly enough to gain some basic knowledge about the illness, given how widely misunderstood it is (even prompting books to be written about it, like the award-winning The Sound of Sch by Danielle Lim).
Another booth explained more about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), laying out brochures and specially designed, eye-catching cards for students to pick up. It focused on a particular phrase many are guilty of saying off-handedly: “I’m just very OCD”, an association made between sufferers of OCD and people who are particular about cleanliness or neatness. Because such stereotypical myths can be hurtful to actual sufferers of OCD, awareness has to be raised about this mental illness. This booth has done well in achieving that purpose.
One particular booth drew the attention of many students—the “Stress-less” booth, in front of which a large inflatable pool filled with emoji cushions, balls and plushies was placed. In a competitive environment such as our school, it is a guarantee that stress levels can climb dangerously high if students do not know how to deal with it safely. This is why Peer Helpers set up a highly interactive booth to teach people about tips to relieve stress while they lounge in the pool with friends, even including statistics on the sources of stress (mostly school, where they are “pressured to do well academically”).
And that’s not all. For this year’s MHAW, Peer Helper’s Programme collaborated with Raffles Community Advocates to set up a booth too. With postcards and post-its lined up neatly on the table, the booth aimed to raise awareness about the stigma surrounding mental illness and share stories from various sufferers of mental illness. Too often people afflicted with a mental illness shun treatment for fear of being associated with a disorder, and more see their illness as a sign of weakness. Even more receive negativity from and are ignored by their peers, which further exacerbates their condition. As such, the booth played an important role in helping students understand the difficulties sufferers face, and thus helped to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The main highlight of the booths was the “Be-You-Tiful” booth. A full-body mirror—the Positivity Mirror—was placed next to the booth, and on its surface were yellow post-its with compliments written all over it. The purpose of this booth was to spread awareness about anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder arising from unhealthy body image and the desire to find control in one’s life. With the proliferation of unhealthy stereotypes and an increasingly toxic environment promoting unattainable “ideal” body types in the media today, more people find their bodies unsatisfactory. However, as the booth advocates, our bodies are perfect the way they are.
The Positivity Mirror initiative was a success, with students taking photos of themselves in the mirror and some adding on to the post-it compliments on the mirror. The mirror was not restricted to the one in the canteen—the toilet mirror in the canteen was not spared from post-it compliments as well.
What we see on social media—from photos of celebrities, supermodels and Instagram influencers to even your own friends—may not be entirely true. Here are instances of Photoshop working its sorcery on one too many magazine spreads and apps that help add abs to your body or curves to your hips. Even if there isn’t any editing involved in the pictures, there are so many body types out there that do not fit the supermodel body.
And that’s alright, because in the end, you are your own type of perfect.
MHAW also had its fair share of inspiring personal testimonies, a few of which we had the privilege of attending.
Speakers such as Ms Susan Ong (a member of a peer learning initiative to help others with mental illnesses) shared about the support and love from the people around her that helped her get through her difficult journey of depression, with friends and family being key to her recovery. As someone who had also suffered from depression in the past, speaker Mr Amos Tan offered an interesting take on his own struggles, calling it a ‘blessing in disguise’ that piqued his interest in mental health and sparked his passion for helping others struggling through the same arduous journey. He also opened up regarding the difficulties he faced in seeking help, and drawing from this experience, stated with conviction, “Seeking help is not something that should be stigmatised.”
Finally, Huang Huan Yuan, an alumnus of Raffles Institution, returned to shed some light on her struggles with an eating disorder. Speaking as someone who had experienced the struggle first-hand, she gave tips to those who might be wrestling with a similar issue. She encouraged them to write a journal to express their thoughts, and do meaningful things for others to improve their own mental well-being. These tips were further extended to those who wanted to help and support anyone struggling with eating disorders—proactively seeking these people out first to offer support, and avoiding ‘trigger’ topics such as food or going on diets.
She also reaffirmed Ms Ong’s emphasis on finding a network of support to get through the ordeal. “As teenagers,” she added with a knowing glint in her eyes, “emotions get out of hand very fast. Emotional management is very important. Research has shown that just having someone there for you is very helpful for you when going through tough times, no matter how introverted you are.”
Wrapping up her sharing, she touched on the topic of advocacy and changing of perceptions towards the mentally ill. Raising the idea of a ‘ripple effect’, she encouraged students to reach out and advocate for a change in the perceptions towards the mentally ill, whether it be through social media sharing or simply bringing the topic up in casual conversation. Finally, in an impactful ‘call to arms’ to those in their teenage years (us!), Huan Yuan passionately asserted, “This is the age at which people should start learning about mental illness. Many mental illnesses start around this age, and we are in the age group where we start to become young adults—we are going to drive the future of society.”
Mental Health Awareness Week offered much food for thought for us Rafflesians. With its interactive booths, insightful information and inspiring talks, suffice it to say that MHAW was indeed a success—the total number of students who stopped by the booths and attended the talks is testament to that. If you weren’t aware of the activities that took place in school during MHAW, it’s still not too late to hop onto the internet and do some of your own research about mental health, or talk to your close friends about the topic. The lack of awareness regarding mental illness is a real problem especially among youths our age, and being part of the demographic most affected by it, it is about time we really paid attention to it. Being aware of the issue is a good first step, but we could, perhaps, do more in the fight against flawed perceptions. Every one of us has a stake in this fight—we are, after all, all im’perfect.