Help is on hand for students

As places where most teens spend the bulk of the time, schools have in place various programmes to help young people who are troubled.

A Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman told The Sunday Times that schools work with parents and the community to provide networks of support in the home, school and community settings.

The spokesman said that teachers are taught to identify students who show signs of distress and to provide basic counselling support.

Students can also help their peers. For example, at Holy Innocents' High School, care representatives are appointed in every class to watch out for classmates who might be emotionally disturbed, anxious or stressed. They also encourage their peers to seek help and serve as mediators when needed.

What schools are doing to help distressed young people has come under the spotlight after it was reported that suicides among those aged 10 to 19 hit a 15-year high last year.

  • Warning signs of distress

  • Senior youth support worker for the Community Health Assessment Team (Chat) Lee Yi Ping said that all suicide threats or attempts must be taken seriously.

    Parents and family can help by watching out for warning signs, addressing their child's distress or suicidal thoughts, offering emotional support and encouraging the child to seek professional support. Signs include:

    •Written or spoken notice of intention to commit suicide.

    •Expressions of hopelessness or helplessness.

    •An overwhelming sense of shame or guilt.

    •A dramatic change in personality or appearance.

    •Irrational or bizarre behaviour.

    •Changes in eating or sleeping habits.

    •A severe drop in school or work performance.

    •A lack of interest in the future.

    •Giving away prized possessions or putting affairs in order.

    (Source: Mental Health First Aid, 2003)

    Wang Tianjie

MOE also works closely with the Ministry of Social and Family Development and other agencies to provide support to parents.

This can be in the form of talks and workshops to share tips with parents on how to support their children's social and emotional development, and help them build resilience in their children.

At Nanyang Technological University (NTU), workshops and talks on topics such as stress management are held yearly.

"Apart from student counsellors, NTU has a network of faculty and staff providing pastoral care support to students," said Associate Professor Kwok Kian Woon, Associate Provost for Student Life at NTU. "There are also student volunteers who serve as peer helpers or peer mentors who are trained in this," he added.

At the National University of Singapore (NUS), apart from counselling services and hotlines, there are student-led initiatives such as dialogues on mental health. Earlier this year, students started a fundraising effort with the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to raise awareness of mental health concerns.

Making students aware of mental health issues is important because they can help support distressed peers appropriately.

Ms Lee Yi Ping , senior youth support worker for the Community Health Assessment Team, a national outreach and mental health check programme under IMH, said eight in 10 successful suicides have prior warning signs.

Many young people prefer to confide in their friends, who may not have the maturity to deal with such issues, she said. "As friends of youth who have suicidal thoughts, they should focus on being supportive and provide a listening ear instead of coming up with solutions for the problems.

"They need to help their distressed friend seek help by approaching a trusted adult such as a parent, teacher, counsellor or other professionals."

Wang Tianjie

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Help is on hand for students'. Print Edition | Subscribe