Peers to lend an ear to young people

Members of NTU's Peer Helping Programme (clockwise from top left) Wang Jia Wei, Noor Haslinda Ibrahim, Mak Foo Sing, Ang Chin Heng, Muhd Izzuddin Azriludin, Kenneth Kwek, Chua Kai Ling, Nur Atiqah Azhari and Kiona Chong. The programme's confidants ar
Members of NTU's Peer Helping Programme (clockwise from top left) Wang Jia Wei, Noor Haslinda Ibrahim, Mak Foo Sing, Ang Chin Heng, Muhd Izzuddin Azriludin, Kenneth Kwek, Chua Kai Ling, Nur Atiqah Azhari and Kiona Chong. The programme's confidants are trained to listen and build rapport.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Support networks crucial as more are seeking help for mental health issues

More young people are seeking professional help for mental health issues, with stress being a common theme.

Stress could be caused by a desire for perfection, obsession with grades, low tolerance for perceived failure, and self-esteem and identity issues, counsellors and mental health organisations told The Straits Times.

Raffles Counselling Centre at Raffles Hospital is "seeing more young people presenting with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, stress, self-harming behaviour and eating disorders", said consultant psychiatrist Tan Hwee Sim, though she did not provide figures.

She said the rise could be partly due to greater efforts by schools, communities and general practitioners to identify youth at risk of having such issues.

At the Singapore Association for Mental Health, there has been a year-on-year increase of young people seeking help for mental health issues over the last five years, said its executive director Tan Li Li.

Promoting the mental well-being of young people is one of the recommendations put forward by the NurtureSG task force last week.

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

We don't offer advice. We are just there emotionally for them. Assuring someone that they are not alone really helps.

HEAD CONFIDANT NUR ATIQAH AZHARI, 23, on the role peers play.

The task force also highlighted the importance of building resilience in them and strengthening their support networks. These networks have been growing.

Over the past three years, Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Peer Helping Programme has seen a 50 per cent increase in students applying to be among the 50 confidants.

The programme has been running for nine years.

The number of students taking part in the programme's outreach events, such as the NTU World Mental Health Awareness Day and Stressbuster, has also doubled since 2015.

The Health Promotion Board and Ministry of Education will also strengthen peer support structures in mainstream schools and institutes of higher learning by providing resources and training.

Teachers, with the help of guided lesson plans, will train peer helpers in their schools.

Students will learn to spot signs of mental stress and look out for their peers - who might not feel as comfortable approaching adults for help.

The Institute of Mental Health's medical board chairman Daniel Fung said peer helpers can offer psychological "first aid" to young people and might ease the burden on psychiatrists.

Dr Fung is heading a new inter-agency research workgroup to better understand suicidal and self- harm behaviours in young people as part of the NurtureSG action plan.

NTU's Peer Helping Programme confidants are trained to listen and build rapport.

Head confidant Nur Atiqah Azhari, 23, said:"We don't offer advice. We are just there emotionally for them. Assuring someone that they are not alone really helps."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'Peers to lend an ear to young people'. Print Edition | Subscribe