By: Melody Zaccheus
Championing Youth Mental Wellness
Co-chairs of the NCSS supported Youth Alliance, Ms Anita Low-Lim and Mr Cho Ming Xiu, talk about their heart for youth with mental health needs and share the progress of the alliance’s work to date.
Photo by: Caroline Chia | Words by: Melody Zaccheus
Helpless teenagers, troubled by a myriad of stressors such as chaos on the homefront, academic expectations, and relentless cyberbullying, were ending their own lives.
They had one thing in common: they were unable to get through to anyone in their darkest hour, said Ms Anita Low-Lim, co-chair of the NCSS supported Youth Alliance.
Distressed by what she was seeing, Ms Low-Lim, 53, has spent the past few years co-developing a slew of upstream measures to save young lives.
NCSS had approached her, as well as Mr Cho Ming Xiu, the founder and executive director of youth mental health non-profit Campus PSY, to helm the initiative in 2017.
The alliance’s formation was a watershed moment, said Ms Low-Lim, who is also a senior director at TOUCH Community Services. Up till that point, youth programmes had largely revolved around topics like cyber wellness or were designed to address at-risk behaviours such as smoking.
She said: There is a critical need to create more awareness revolving around mental health topics amongst youths.
Over two years, NCSS, Ms Low-Lim and Mr Cho, together with the other alliance members, hammered out the alliance’s vision and mission.
What stands today is a ground-up interagency committee for youth mental wellness. Officially launched in 2019, the Youth Alliance comprises government, healthcare, and social service agencies as well as Institutes of Higher Learning. It is focused on increasing mental health knowledge, reducing stigma, and promoting help-seeking behaviour among those aged 16 to 35.
Mr Cho, 35, said: “We need our youth to be equipped with the right skillset to identify mental health symptoms. We also need to develop the right resources to support them. Otherwise, the consequences can be dire, as we’ve seen.”
To this end, the alliance works closely with NCSS to build up a repository of resources, he shared.
An Arsenal of Tools
Plagued by fantastical hallucinations, “John Tan”, a character developed by NCSS and the Youth Alliance as part of their e-escape room series, hopes to break out of his rut by studying abroad. Players are given the opportunity to step into John’s shoes, navigate his bedroom, and help him pack for his trip to Australia.
In other scenarios, players are encouraged to help characters connect with a friend for support, or simply make it for a well-deserved lunch break after a harrowing morning in the office.
The single player game, which features four characters across four episodes, was rolled out progressively beginning in late 2020. It covers four mental health conditions: mood disorder: depression and anxiety; bulimia; obsessive-compulsive disorder; and schizophrenia.
Produced by Trinax Private Limited, a digital agency, with input from members of the Youth Alliance, it aims to boost mental health literacy among youth, encourage peer support and inclusivity, and reduce stigma.
Mr Van Teo, a manager within NCSS’ social inclusion team, said: “We worked to ensure each episode provided authentic depictions of various mental health struggles by inviting persons with lived experiences to weigh in.”
Feedback on the series has been positive thus far, with users reporting that it serves as a good starting point to articulate how they feel.
As of June 2021, the e-escape room platform has registered more than 23,000 page views with more than 3,000 unique user interactions across the different episodes. Its reach continues to grow with schools adopting it for use in the classroom.
On top of the e-escape room, the Youth Alliance is also involved in NCSS’ Beyond the Label festivals which are designed to address mental health stigma. In addition, it participates in roadshows; organises dialogues and masterclasses; and puts together online toolkits.
The Road Ahead: Equipping Youth with Coping Mechanisms
While mental health awareness has grown exponentially during the pandemic, youth here are still reluctant to seek help. A study by the Samaritans of Singapore found that a third of those aged 20 to 29, fearing embarrassment and judgement, would still shy away from speaking up and voicing out when overwhelmed.
Troubled by the trend, the alliance’s co-chairs said they are working to reduce stigma and to reach their goal for a more inclusive society. Mr Cho said: “Hopefully we can move beyond just conversations on mental health but the normalisation of help-seeking behaviour as well.”
Indeed, there is still much to be done, said Ms Low-Lim, noting that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a rather drastic change in youth psychology.
“Moving forward, our hope is for peer support to grow beyond identifying symptoms, to the dispensing of useful tools, tips and coping skills such as breathing techniques. This is our next step as such skills have yet to be widely practised in the community,” she said.
This article is brought to you in partnership with WhatAreYouDoing.sg (WAYD), a visual storytelling platform that celebrates Singapore's everyday heroes.