Forum: Kids who need help most are those who don't know that they need it

I applaud The Straits Times team for organising the forum titled It's OK Not To Be OK with Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Friday (Having 'trusted buddy' to turn to is key, Aug 1).

The participating students spoke well and evidently have a balanced approach towards handling their mental health.

While I appreciate the difficulty of getting students who are facing mental health challenges to be part of a public forum, I strongly encourage the Education Ministry to dig deeper to uncover how it can help children, especially those without good family support.

More often than not, the parents or child may not even be aware that he or she needs help.

I have three teenagers who are very different. One is what many may call a high performer (he is a student at River Valley High School); one is on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) band; and the third is what some may call an underperformer who has a lot of potential.

Given their long hours in school and the teenage desire for privacy, it is hard for us, as parents, to observe our children at home.

The parent-teacher partnership is thus very important, and my family has benefited greatly from this.

A teacher at an enrichment centre who was formerly a school teacher encouraged me to seek help for my child, who was eventually diagnosed with ASD.

She rightly highlighted to me that it is easy for a teacher who has to handle a class of 30 to 40 students to overlook a child who is quiet and suffering in silence.

Since my son's diagnosis, he has received a lot of support from the school system, which allowed him to overcome his challenges, even in a mainstream school.

In today's system, the limited number of counsellors will be able to help only students who are flagged by teachers, parents or students. Adding more qualified counsellors will not help students whose issues go undetected.

Given that our students spend the majority of their active time in school, reducing the teacher to student ratio in schools here would have a greater impact.

This would allow teachers more opportunities to provide better support to students, empower them to strengthen the parent-teacher partnership and, most importantly, enable them to look out for nuanced tell-tale signs that a student needs help.

Children who do not show obvious signs of needing help can go undetected and carry their issues into their adult lives.

It is easy to help those who come forward. The children who need the most help are those who do not know that they need help.

So let us place resources on proactively identifying children who need help, in addition to encouraging those who know they need help to step forward.

Clara Goh Chai Hon