By Afeef Ikhwan (21A13B), Elizabeth Paulyn Gostelow (21A01B), and Shaun Loh (21A01A)
One metre apart.
This short distance between us has become the norm following the outbreak of COVID-19. But unlike the many brightly coloured floor markers and bolded signs around us, there’s a more invisible effect of social distancing that we don’t address as openly.
Perhaps it was gradual. A week of Home Based Learning (HBL). A slew of cancelled outings with friends. A descent into a near-complete lack of physical interaction. A chest screwed tight with a sense of alienation from friends and relatives.
Now more than ever, it is crucial to address our mental health in order to get through these uncertain times together. To speak up from behind that stuffy, muting mask and say how we truly feel about our lonely lifestyles as ‘quaranteens.’
“It is [necessary] to discuss mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic for the circuit breaker has led to many feeling upset and depressed. There is an uncertain future [ahead] that everyone is anxious about. To make things worse, [our] lack of social interaction due to social distancing forces us to face our issues in solitude.”Gopesh Kannan (21S03B)
This silent isolation we currently face is perfectly encapsulated in this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) theme: Masks, Unmasked. The theme revolves around the idea of wanting to break away from the knee-jerk responses of ‘I’m fine’ and ‘I’m doing alright’ when one really isn’t. From a Peer Helper’s perspective, Max Chwa (21A01B) shared that Masks, Unmasked is also “a reference to the pandemic, and how it has distanced us from one another”.
This MHAW, the Peer Helpers are advocating for open, honest communication through professional talks while raising awareness through attractive posters in order for the school body to cope with this pandemic together.
Keeping in line with this year’s theme of Masks, Unmasked, the Peer Helpers will be showcasing project posters by their predecessors along the canteen walkway in three cycles.
Cycle 1 (Monday, Tuesday): Behind the masks: Mind
The Peer Helpers hope to instill an understanding of what’s “behind the mask”—that is, to dispel the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues. Informative posters on various mental health disorders such as social anxiety and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) will motivate students to have open, well-informed discussions on these sensitive topics. These students will, in turn, become more engaged with and aware of these real issues.
Cycle 2 (Wednesday, Thursday): Behind the masks: Body Image
Although technically under the “mental health disorder” umbrella, the Peer Helpers wish to give special attention to body image issues, which have become particularly prevalent in recent discourse. Body dysmorphia, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia are the three primary disorders that will be brought up and analyzed in this cycle.
Cycle 3 (Friday): Care behind the mask
What lies behind your own mask is just as important as what lies behind others’. Self-care is key in this particular cycle, with triggers and stress relief being the principal topics of discussion. A project from previous years, Post-itive Thinking, will be revived, allowing students to learn about the importance of self-gratitude.
Disclaimer: Please adhere to physical distancing measures when viewing the posters. Although some posters may be very intriguing, do make a mental note to keep a distance from your friends when viewing the exhibition.
Talks by Guest Speakers
You may be worried that the staple (and arguably most anticipated) events of every MHAW—the well-informed speeches by health professionals—will not be happening this year due to COVID-19. But fret not, they will still be taking place though online conferences.
Emotional Resilience Talk
By: INSIGHT Care Corner Singapore (CCS)
Details: 17 August (Monday), 4.30-5.30pm
Have you ever felt so angry and upset that you lost your cool, and when you eventually calmed down, you were puzzled over what triggered it? Or you felt guilty for not responding in the manner that you knew you should have? Come and learn more about some of the emotions we often struggle with and the helpful ways in which we can manage and harness them for spiritual growth!
On Becoming a Shrink – A personal sharing
By: Dr Liow Pei Hsiang
Details: 18 August (Tuesday), 3.30-4.30pm
With almost 30 years of experience in psychiatry, Dr Liow is currently a senior consultant at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. She will be sharing authentically on her calling—how she became a “shrink” (the colloquial term for “psychiatrist”), what she does as one, who she works with and how her role fits into the big picture.
Safe Circle: Trauma-Informed Care
By: Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
Details: 18 August (Tuesday), 4.30-5.15pm
The 45-min awareness talk will cover a common understanding of trauma and how trauma may be identified. You will also learn about the trauma prevalent among children in Singapore and how trauma can be caused by an event like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weaving Hope into our Stories
By: Nicole Kay
Details: 19 August (Wednesday), 3.30-4.30pm
Each of us has a story to tell. When we share our personal stories, we begin to build bridges instead of walls, and embrace authenticity instead of apathy. We experience a community that is built upon contagious courage for ourselves. This talk is about discovering the narratives we tell ourselves, what it means to create hope and how to recover our identity in the face of illness. Ironically, it is actually in losing ourselves that we find what really defines us deep down.
Mental Health in Youth
By: ChatHub (Yap Ming Hui & Low Giok Khim)
Details: 19 August (Wednesday), 4.30-5.30pm
The Community Health Assessment Team, or CHAT for short, is a *SCAPE-based group of youth support workers dedicated to spreading awareness of mental health as well as providing access to mental health checkups and resources. Despite having to temporarily suspend face-to-face services, the team hopes to reach out to students through non-physical means, including online talks like this one.
Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Society through the Lens of a Social Worker
By: Mr Zheng Liren
Details: 20 August (Thursday), 3.30-4.30pm
Drawing from his personal experience, Mr Zheng will share about his experience as a social worker. He will also give us an understanding of how families in the lower socio-economic strata have been affected by COVID-19, and how social work is applied in this climate to these families in need.
Mindfulness in Schools Project
By: Ms Ma Jialin
Details: 20 August (Thursday), 4.30-5.30pm
Stop. Breathe. Pay attention. In a nutshell, mindfulness refers to the training of our attention to be aware of the present instead of worrying about the past or being anxious about the future. In this presentation, some of the evidence-based benefits of being mindful for students will be shared. Come join the talk to experience a short mindfulness practice!
Mental Health Awareness
By: Mahita Vas
Details: 21 August (Friday), 3.30-4.30pm
Mahita will share some facts about mental illness in Singapore before delving into her personal journey living with bipolar disorder. She is very open about her mental health journey and welcomes questions from the audience.
To make up for the lack of hands-on activities due to social distancing measures, the Peer Helpers hope to touch the hearts of Rafflesians with three evocative films that will resonate with every viewer.
The Buddy (18 min)
Screening time: 17 August (Monday), 3.30pm
Hidayat is an 8-year-old boy tasked to be a buddy to his classmate, Tam. However, he finds that he is frightened by Tam’s erratic behaviour. But Tam’s parents and teachers merely dismiss him as reclusive. Hidayat learns to accept Tam as different. The two develop a special relationship, eventually making a decision that will change Tam’s life forever.
But Honey, You Look Fine (10 min)
Screening time: 17 August (Monday), immediately after The Buddy
This short film revolves around a woman taking her first steps to recover from bulimia whilst looking at the social conditioning that caused it in the first place.
Lost Focus (30 min)
Screening time: 21 August (Friday), 3.30pm
An aspiring filmmaker is faced with the trauma of potentially losing his grandfather. Meanwhile, Sam struggles with intense self-doubt, which is exacerbated by a strained relationship with his strict father.
Put Your Mask Back On—Wrapping Up the Preview
Needless to say, the Peer Helpers are very enthusiastic about the MHAW activities in store. When asked about which activity he is most looking forward to, Max quipped, “I think the personal sharings by Nicole and Mahita will allow many individuals to feel less alone in their emotional struggles.”
For Remus Ong (21S03L), the Peer Helpers’ chairperson, it is the mindfulness sharing session he’s most attracted to. “To live a more fulfilling life, I should learn to live in the present more often and appreciate what’s in front of me too—[which is something] I can learn from this session,” he shared.
Remus also reiterated the notion that MHAW serves as a reminder to Rafflesians that it is perfectly okay to discuss mental health issues without the fear of being judged by their peers.
Finally, he expressed his optimistic viewpoint on society’s perceptions of mental health in the future. “The more we talk about these issues constructively, the easier it will be for mental health to be accepted and embraced by society.”
And that’s MHAW 2020 for you! The Peer Helpers hope to unmask the stigma that masks mental health issues and engage in beneficial conversations for you and your peers’ well-being.