By Cao Yuhan (24S03M) and Chandrasekaran Shreya (24S06A)
Have you been true to yourself recently? Have you been real?
From 27th July to 4th August, Raffles Peer Helpers (RPH) held their annual Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). The Peer Helpers made our weeks extremely lively with informative booths about mental health and sweet popcorn distributed to cure Monday blues. Not to mention, the catchy pop music during lunch time (featuring hits from Troye Sivan, Harry Styles and many more), soulful tunes from Raffles Jazz and energetic performances from Raffles Rock during their buskings was the cherry on top.
The Peer Helpers (PHPs), split into eight groups, researched on the issues plaguing today’s youth. Their research was then displayed in two ways: first, via booths in the canteen and second, via ten-minute long presentations, offering a deeper dive into each topic.
Lining the canteen walkway was an array of booths; each targeting a different issue, all offering a range of eye-catching and interactive activities.
Done by Team Underthinking, the booth ‘Overthinking’ explored a common but perhaps less-discussed issue: overthinking. Alongside their tips to combat overthinking – meditation by finding a distraction and immersing yourself in nature – ‘Let it Go’ was an interactive activity paired with the booth.
Rafflesians penned down intrusive thoughts on Post-its, crumpled them up and tossed them into a paper box, as if both physically and mentally letting go of them for the activity.
Team vulnerABLE aimed to spread the message that emotional vulnerability is freeing and that there should be no shame in being open about your true self. Caught up in life’s obstacles, it is easy to fall into the trap of masking our emotions and being untrue to ourselves when we say: ‘Yeah, I’m OK.’ when people show concern.
As a way to impart knowledge and provide support to students, Team vulnerABLE’s booth had zines and cards with guides to helping troubled friends seek the help they need and advice on how to recognise and be honest about our feelings.
At some point, social media glamorised all-nighters, which is when one stays up the whole night without getting sleep. Increasingly, videos online show people sacrificing their sleep to study for exams or purely for leisure activities, painting sleep deprivation as okay or even a badge of honour. Team ZZZ set out to clear the misconstruction that not sleeping is harmful.
In their booth, Team ZZZ introduced symptoms, long-term impacts of sleep deprivation and tips to improve sleeping habits. With detrimental effects to our physical and mental health such as increased risk of coronary heart disease and depression, sleep deprivation should not be overlooked. Team ZZZ advises students to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and play ambient music to improve sleep quantity and quality.
Team Mirrorme’s booth centred around self-esteem, framed against the backdrop of Singapore’s hustle culture and the youth’s academically-driven culture. Expounding on how self-neglect and resultant poor self-esteem manifests differently across the sexes, the group offered small cards to be gifted to friends (or even yourself!): a small, kind-hearted gesture to boost people’s self-esteem.
Exploring something oft-encountered but never quite seen as a big deal in Asian societies, Team YEEHAW set out to introduce Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). Alongside the bite-sized pieces of information offered via their posters and video, little stickers, each signifying a different type of ACE, were distributed. The effort incisively recognises the discomfort that may arise from openly sharing one’s experiences – vulnerability, as team vulnerABLE puts it, is tough after all. The stickers, instead, offer an alternative pathway to building a community: one where silent gazes of unspoken understanding can still unfold, even where fewer words are spoken.
With the memorable catchphrase, “Procrastination: let’s procrastinate it”, Team Mwahahahaha had set up a line of glass jars – each indicating a certain number of hours – to illustrate Rafflesians’ screen time. Seeing as how our phones are so integral in our everyday routines, it is as expected, perhaps, that the jar with “more than six hours” was the most full.
Offering similarly interactive activities were the booths on self-care (Team selfcare) and impostor syndrome (Team Among Us), with the former offering a star-folding activity – a quaint, simple activity to take our minds off JC’s complexities – and the latter, a cloverleaf sticker, alongside a range of freebies to take away.
All groups offered an array of solutions to their chosen issues; collectively, the booths served as a platform of crowdsourced advice. Given the abundance of existing online resources (and the overwhelming exhaustion of trawling through these), the presentations and booths proved, perhaps, especially useful.
Behind the booths stood a big board filled with students’ messages of affirmation. Below is a graphic serving as a guide to the types of messages that could be seen:
A Lunch Date with Mental Health
“Mental health is a progressive effort in the world, and everyone here is part of change.”RPH’s chairperson, Ki’En Lim (24S06J)
With Ki’En opening remarks, a Wednesday afternoon of mental health presentations commenced. Beyond eye-catching graphics, conversational tones and entertaining video clips, it was evident–given the depth and breadth of each presentation–that much research had been done. Moreover, with a crucial part of MHAW’s success lying in relating groups’ topics to the student body, many achieved this with ease.
Furthermore, some examined their issues’ portrayal in the media. Team YEEHAW explored the media’s representation of ACES, citing well-known animes like “A Silence Voice (2016)”, covering bullying, and old-time classics like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)”, covering body dysmorphia.
Team vulnerABLE highlighted many individuals’ unease with vulnerability, largely due to the media’s tendency to sensationalise. “I don’t want people to think I’m crazy,” an individual experiencing bipolar disorder said. Indeed, mental illnesses are often subject to highly-stereotyped portrayals. Fanning the flames of existing public alarmism, it isn’t difficult to see how vulnerability is actively discouraged in society.
A commonality across all presentations was their multi-dimensional portrayal of their chosen topics. With each issue’s risk factors, varied manifestations, and myriad potential solutions, genuine efforts were made to accommodate a diversity of experiences. While we use umbrella terms to discuss mental illnesses, individual experiences are distinct, not monolithic. Diverse, multi-faceted, with varying degrees of complexity, each story deserves individualised concern, understanding and empathy.
As one group mentioned, mental health is a “continual journey”. To adopt all groups’ solutions, one needs to take time to ruminate and become more self-aware. Only with a better understanding of ourselves can we sincerely incorporate the groups’ solutions into our lives. While a mammoth task (given time’s scarcity in our lives), the journey following that will surely be a far less burdensome one.
Every awareness-raising campaign is unfailingly followed by this question: How effective was it? After all, it is easy to diminish the impact of a short-term, week-long effort to improve students’ well-being. With the recent release of CT results, most students might inevitably fixate on academics. The reasons to be pessimistic about MHAW seem apparent.
However, paradoxically, doesn’t this reaffirm the need for and timeliness of MHAW? After all, after stressful, sleep-deprived weeks on the academic grind, doesn’t a week to simply unwind sound even more appealing? With the following sights in abundance–
- Groups of students, posing enthusiastically, framed by the photobooth’s bright, golden balloons and fairy lights
- Multi-coloured twin bracelets adorning people’s wrists
- Students, arms linked and faces lit up by smiles, singing in unison to 2010s hits
–MHAW, surely, was not a futile effort.
Improving students’ mental health is a challenging goal. How do you suddenly inspire the importance for mental health in a competition-driven, success-centric setting? Put simply, you can’t–at least, not suddenly. A sustainable, multi-pronged approach might do better in achieving that. So for now, this might suffice: taking a week off, heading to the canteen with our friends, momentarily casting our worries aside, and simply being real.