Raffles Science Symposium 2022—Mental Health Science Strand

Reading Time: 7 minutes

By Faith Ho (22A01A), Shermaine Lim (22S03N)

Raffles Science Symposium (RSS) Mental Health Science Strand is an annual event organised by the Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP) and the Raffles Guidance Centre (RGC). This year’s RSS took place on 16 February, and featured sharings on various topics related to mental health—from mindfulness to social media—as well as students’ mental health projects. 

It was attended by well over 300 people, ranging from students to educators, from a variety of schools that included Raffles Institution, ACS (Barker) Secondary School and Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary). 

The symposium kicked off with an opening address by RI’s own deputy principal, Ms Ng Mei Sze, who emphasised the increasing importance of mental health in this day and age.

This was followed by a keynote address by Dr Christopher Willard, a psychologist and education consultant at Harvard Medical School. 

Keynote: Mindful Social Media Practice by Dr Christopher Willard, Psychologist & Educational Consultant, Harvard Medical School

Dr Willard’s presentation on social media and mindfulness.

Dr Willard explored the topics of approaching social media with mindfulness and becoming more aware of the emotions we are inviting as we visit social media sites. True to his title—as ever the bona-fide mindfulness expert—Dr Willard started his talk with a mindfulness exercise. Inviting the audience to join in, his dulcet tones coupled with the calming ‘ding’ of a meditation bell allowed the audience to establish a sense of tranquillity. 

With the rapt attention of all those in attendance, Dr Willard opened with an analysis of how social media and technology has changed the paradigm of our world. He kept the talk engaging by including a few of his personal anecdotes. 

He then followed up with describing the paradox of an ever connected world that feels increasingly divisive, expounding on the detrimental effects of the pandemic. 

Having established a rather bleak picture, he then delved into the crux of his message: learning to manage the negative emotions when dealing with the internet. Dr Willard introduced several techniques that allowed audiences to remember the key aspects of managing one’s emotions: Aware of Hands, Aware of Breath and Aware of Posture (BHP) 

At the end of his sharing, Dr Willard took out his phone and began to scroll through his feed, sharing his personal thoughts—both rational and irrational—with the audience, giving an authentic spin on the points he brought up. 

Dr Willard’s speech gave audiences an important reminder that: Technology can be your greatest servant or most terrible master; the choice of which is ours. 

“I found Dr Christopher Willard’s talk especially appropriate and encouraging. It set a very good and calm start to RSS”

– Faith Ang (22S03H)

Afterwards, we split into the Professional and Student tracks. To find out more about what was covered during the Professional track, you can check out the Peer Helpers’ Website

Coping with Life when Life Doesn’t Work Out by Mr Marvin Kang, The Astronauts Collective

As students, we experience both the highs and lows of school life. When personal problems meet hectic schedules, we may often feel like we’re fighting a losing battle. At this point, we may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. 

Fortunately for us, that’s exactly what Mr Marvin Kang, co-founder of The Astronauts Collective and alumni of Raffles Institution, was here to share about in his aptly-titled talk. 

Mr Kang started out with a Mentimeter for students to share how they were feeling. The predominant responses were (to little surprise), ‘stress[ed]’, ‘tired’ and ‘anxious’. With this consensus established, Mr Kang began his sharing with lighthearted personal anecdotes. Reminiscing on his old school days, he shared funny and witty personal stories and experiences. 

Mr Kang’s mentimeter activity.

Delving deeper into his JC experience, Mr Kang then revealed the more sombre part of his JC life: failing JC. In the A levels, he had attained several Ds and Es as well as an O (which was a grade that represented a pass in O levels but not A levels).

As someone who was entering the gruelling routine of NS, coping with his grades and the uncertainty of his future sent him ‘spiralling’. Soon, he began to develop an addiction to playing computer games, a form of mundane routine that numbed his mind to the feeling of being lost. 

His problems soon caught up to him and he started experiencing hyperventilation. This experience, though jarring, gave him a renewed sense of perspective. Amidst the confusion of what was happening to him and his body, Mr Kang found the clarity to try something new: going to Polytechnic. 

As he found himself beginning a new chapter in his education journey, Mr Kang realised that he had to learn to accept the rises and dips in life. With this fresh perspective in mind, he began to thrive in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, joining a variety of new and exciting experiences. Seeing this as another chance of self redemption, Mr Kang strove to do his best, and eventually became a recipient of the Public Service Commision (PSC) scholarship. 

After university, Mr Kang found himself embarking on yet a new venture when he took a sabbatical from his job in the Land Transport Authority to help set up Singapore Institute of Technology. This experience gave him the inspiration to start a non-profit initiative which had initiated from his university days: The Astronauts Collective. 

For a man who has had such a rich life experience, it’s truly remarkable to see someone so humble and earnest in his aspiration to inspire and enable those around him. His advice to students can be summarised as follows: 

  1. Build your support system early; but be a part of someone else’s support system too.
  2. When you’re in unfamiliar moments, know that it will be okay.
  3. Don’t only focus on ‘self’, be a part of something larger.
  4. Bad things will happen. When they do, how we choose to react is a choice.

Next, we had sharings from various Peer Helpers on projects they had undertaken to raise awareness for mental health, including four groups from Mental Health Awareness Week.

Mental Health Projects Sharing by RI Peer Helpers 

The first sharing was by Project Impasta, which sought to raise awareness of Imposter Syndrome. Did you know that around 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lives, and many highly successful people such as Lady Gaga have experienced it? The group shared about what imposter syndrome is, the signs of it, the five different types—perfectionist, expert, soloist, superhero and natural genius—and how one can confront it.

What is imposter syndrome, as taken from Project Impasta.

Next, another group of peer helpers shared about the common phenomenon of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which is prevalent in the digital age. They broke down the various symptoms of FOMO, as well as healthy coping mechanisms to avoid or abate negative feelings. 

The sharing that followed was about attachment styles. Everyone nurtures and sustains deep interpersonal relationships in different ways. Through this sharing, students were introduced to this concept, which is an ethnological and evolutionary theory concerning relationships between people. 

Presented by the team.

Finally, there was a presentation by a group on languishing, a particularly relevant topic during these Covid times, where many people feel a sense of stagnation or emptiness. It gave a word to what many people may have been feeling, but were unable to articulate. The group also gave helpful advice on how to overcome it, namely finding one’s flow, mindfulness and a purpose. 

The effects of languishing, as presented by the team.

Next up, Ulrico Orlando (22S06C) brought us through the story of Chao Fan, a young man suffering from Agoraphobia. He, along with other students, created an immersive visual story to let others understand what anxiety truly feels like (it is showcased on the PHP website). 

As students, we often encounter scenarios where we feel anxious and concerned about the many important things happening in our lives. Through this sharing, the audience became more acquainted with anxiety and learnt to better recognise symptoms and support their friends.

Ulrico’s presentation, featuring Chao Fan.

Last but not least, we had a presentation by two students on mental health in RI. Over the post-Promos holiday, they conducted a survey and focus group discussions with RI students to better understand various issues related to mental health in RI, such as students’ levels of stress, sources of stress, and feedback on existing measures to improve mental health. Their findings were consolidated into the presentation and a poster in the canteen. 

Final Thoughts

As Faith Ang reflected, “RSS was a very good consolidation and pit stop for Term 1.” Its many talks and sharings provided keen insight into various aspects of mental health, as well as reiterated the importance of things like practising mindfulness in RI. 

Sharings by students were also quite “inspiring” to participants. “It was really cool to see how passionate they are about improving the state of mental health of Rafflesians,” commented Mirella Ang (22A01C). 

Estella Tay (22S06P) echoed this sentiment, saying that, “I learnt a lot about the common issues students face, and I now know how to better understand and cope with these issues if I, or someone else, happens to face such issues in the future.” 

All in all, this year’s RSS Mental Health strand can certainly be said to have enriched students’ understanding of themselves and their school community with regards to mental health. 

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