By Claire Jow (23A01B), Raphael Niu (23A01A) and Tay Yu Ning (23S06E)
As much as we might prefer to coast through life brushing mental health struggles under the carpet, it has become increasingly apparent that mental health struggles are a pressing issue, particularly in a stressful environment such as RI. For some of us, even tasks deemed as “simple” such as going to class or finishing a homework assignment can be considered to be a huge victory.
This is where the Raffles Guidance Centre (RGC) comes in, helping students who struggle with problems from device issues to family relationships survive and thrive in life.
Prior to 2010, when the RGC was founded by Mr Gary Koh, Rafflesians struggling with mental health might have found themselves having to endure long waiting times at public health institutions, or footing exorbitant fees at private counselling centres. Now, with the RGC, such students are able to seek help for their issues in a timely and affordable fashion.
As members of the school community, the counsellors at the RGC might also be more equipped to help students through problems such as bullying or academic stress compared to external practitioners.
The RGC is home to eight staff members. Zul and Yvonne counsel the boys at the Y14 side, while Kah Hwee, Alexis, Paul, Yvonne, Sharinder and Jeff counsel the JC students at the Y56 sides. Ms Woo Mei Hui is the RGC’s resident psychologist serving students from both the Secondary and JC side. Ms Woo’s job differs from the counsellors in the sense that she can diagnose learning disabilities, allowing students to get diagnosed earlier rather than later.
The opportunity to positively impact students’ lives and help them come up with new strategies to cope with their issues is what inspires the counsellors to undertake such a challenging line of work.
“I love it when I work with students and connect with them and help them realise a new perspective that they didn’t realise,” said Sharinder, one of the counsellors at the RGC. “It’s really rewarding when I see a lightbulb light up in them. A month before they’re struggling, but next month they come up with strategies, and you see a growth process.”
Besides counselling students, the daily job of an RGC counsellor entails managing the Peer Helpers Programme and the Peer Support Leaders in the RI Y1-4 side, equipping students with the necessary skills on how to make friends and how to look out for one another in more challenging times. The counsellors are also in charge of annual events such as the Raffles Science Symposium – Mental Health Strand and the Mental Health Awareness Week.
As the RGC expanded over the last two years, the counsellors have noticed an uptick in the number of students going to them for consultations.
“If you have more counsellors, it encourages more people to come,” Kah Hwee said. “Currently at the Y5-6 side, we have about 300 unique cases, and that’s quite a lot. And it could be because we are so successful in outreach.”
Another possible reason for the increase in counselling cases could also be due to the increased attention on mental health issues during the Covid-19 pandemic. While some students might have become ‘bored’ of the topic, the counsellors believe this awareness has been helpful for many students in need.
“With the conversations that were triggered because of Covid, mental health is now the flavour of the season. Everything is about mental health, which makes it a lot easier for students to come speak to someone,” said Zul.
While the counsellors undoubtedly find their occupation exceptionally rewarding, there are times when they too suffer from the phenomenon known as “giver’s burnout” — a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion common amongst caregiving careers such as nursing and counselling. When this happens, what do the counsellors do?
“Any counsellor that has counselled for long enough will tell you about [giver’s burnout],” said Paul. “For me, it’s about setting clear boundaries. I think it’s important that our own needs are met, and we replenish ourselves. As counsellors we are also supposed to see a supervisor once a month — that helps a lot.”
An anonymous Y6 student from a S03 class referred to what the counsellors did for them as “life-saving”.
The work of an RGC counsellor is not easy, requiring sizeable empathy, knowledge and a strong passion for helping youths thrive.
The counsellors encourage students to come see them anytime – to them, there’s no problem that’s too trivial.
When asked for nuggets of wisdom to share with the school population, Alexis had this to say:
“Work hard, play even harder. Many Singaporean students don’t know how to play, because they are very focused on what they want to do in terms of academics or in [the] future. Don’t forget that play is equally important!
You can find the full transcript of our interview with the counsellors here.