Everyone has a part to play to foster mental wellbeing in youth

Minister of State for Education, Dr Janil Puthucheary, engaging with participants at NurtureSG focus group discussion on June 3, 2016.
Minister of State for Education, Dr Janil Puthucheary, engaging with participants at NurtureSG focus group discussion on June 3, 2016.ST PHOTO: SABRINA FAISAL

SINGAPORE - It takes every stakeholder in a young person's life to ensure his mental and physical health, said Minister of State for Education, Dr Janil Puthucheary on Friday (June 3) at a focus group discussion on health concerns among youths.

The focus group was the sixth for NurtureSG, a joint MOH-MOE initiative looking at improvising the health of young people in Singapore in areas such as diet, exercise, oral health, vision, and resilience and mental wellbeing.

With the focus on tertiary students in this last public consultation, Dr Janil emphasised the importance that youths understand the source of their stress.

He said that this was not to remove the source of stress entirely, but understanding how to cope with it and to develop resilience.

"It is not a series of things that the taskforce or professionals can do to solve by themselves. It involves the individuals taking responsibility, the family getting involved and a shift in behaviour and mindset across the board," said Dr Janil, who is also Minister of State for Communications and Information.

In the discussion, many students voiced how expectations from parents, schools and even societal standards on social media platforms placed huge pressure on them, causing stress and a drop in their mental wellbeing.

"It's important to have a good mental state. The problem now is that we don't know who isn't happy. We don't know who are suffering from mental health issues like stress, depression, or anxiety," said Piragathesh Subramanian, 23, a student at Colombia University in New York.

There is a need to recognise that mental health issues are important, they are present and that society needs to be open about it, said Dr Janil.

He added that many mental health problems can be dealt with effectively through various methods - medically and socially - such as through supportive friendships and family networks that help the young person cope with these issues.

"The first step is having people comfortable talking about it (mental health issues) and accepting how much of an issue it is," he said.

Emphasising the importance of a balance between mental and physical health, the NurtureSG taskforce looks towards building a strong holistic foundation for health among children and youth.

It stresses the important role of parents, caregivers, educators and the community to give support and foster healthy behaviour in youths.

"There's a lot of pressure to be self sustaining at this age. But the thing is that a lot of us don't know who to turn to when things get bad," said Kyle Malinda-White, 24, a student at NTU Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

While parents, schools and the community do play a part, it is still largely the responsibility of youths themselves to learn to look after themselves and take the initiative for their own health.

"Yes, sometimes we can't do it by ourselves and we need support and help. But at the end of the day, we have to take the step forward and look for it. We need the drive ourselves to take individual responsibility and to change," said Mr Piragathesh.