Neighbourhood mental health initiative with befriender courses, signposts of resources launched

(From left) Touch Community Services' CEO James Tan, Touch Community Services founding chairman Lawrence Khong, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing and National Council of Social Service CEO Tan Li San. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Signposts, stickers and posters will be put up in neighbourhoods in Singapore to inform people of the mental health resources that are available.

These are part of a new neighbourhood initiative launched by Touch Community Services on Thursday (June 2) to raise awareness of mental health and the resources available to those who need them.

The Mental Health-Friendly Neighbourhoods project will also have befriender and first responder courses for residents, mobile exhibitions in schools and neighbourhoods, and peer support workshops. The mobile exhibitions will be held in July and August.

The initiative will be rolled out in Queenstown in the second half of this year, said Touch at the start of its two-day Family Conference at the Raffles City Convention Centre on Thursday. It will then be progressively expanded to other neighbourhoods.

Touch, a non-profit charity serving the needy and disadvantaged in Singapore, said it will be working closely with community partners on this initiative.

Speaking at the conference, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said Singaporeans need to keep working together to ensure that disadvantaged families are not left behind as society matures.

"As societies mature and become more developed, there is always a risk that disadvantages get passed on from generation to generation - accentuating inequality and reducing social mobility," Mr Chan said at the conference which was attended by 450 participants, including experts and practitioners in education, healthcare and social services.

While the "absolute outcome" of such vulnerable families has been improving, their "relative outcomes remain a source of concern", he said.

"Much more has to be done to keep society mobile, and for us to help everyone realise their potential, regardless of their starting point in life," Mr Chan said, noting that more can be done at the individual, community and national levels.

The minister also unveiled The Pebble Walk at the conference on Thursday. The installation will be paved with pebbles painted by the public with words of encouragement penned on them.

The Pebble Walk will be put up in various neighbourhoods in the second half of this year, starting with Queenstown, as part of the Mental Health-Friendly Neighbourhoods initiative.

The installation symbolises the journey of support for people with mental health conditions in the community, said Touch.

"The Pebble Walk is intended to be a visual symbol of a mental health-friendly neighbourhood," Touch chief executive James Tan said. "Singaporeans can play their part by painting pebbles and penning phrases of encouragement."

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing (left) and Touch Community Services CEO James Tan write encouraging messages on the pebbles. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Touch said it launched the initiatives against a backdrop of heightened psychological and mental wellness concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two years.

It cited a survey by the National Council of Social Service conducted in 2020 and 2021, which explored the impact of Covid-19 on people and found that mental health was an area of concern.

Mr Tan added: "With Covid-19, there has been more empathy towards persons with mental health conditions. However, there is still a general feeling of helplessness among the public on how to approach persons with mental health conditions."

During the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, there were 20 per cent more calls made to Touch's counselling hotline, TouchLine, the charity said .

"We need a collective effort to achieve an inclusive society, where people with mental health conditions are no longer stigmatised, and where help-seeking is encouraged," Mr Chan said.

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