Education institutions can create safe spaces for students with mental health issues: President Halimah Yacob

President Halimah Yacob speaking with students at Republic Polytechinc’s Student Care Centre. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
President Halimah Yacob speaking with Ms Sher Yuan and her schoolmates at Republic Polytechinc’s Student Care Centre. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Education institutions can do more to create safe spaces for students who may face problems seeking help for mental health issues, said President Halimah Yacob on Thursday (Dec 17).

During a visit to Republic Polytechnic (RP), Madam Halimah noted that students may not have the courage to confide in their lecturers or teachers, or they may think there is a stigma related to mental health issues.

"We need to provide a safe environment for the students, for them to feel that it's okay - 'I have a mental health problem, I can seek help and I will get the help and I will be able to continue to perform well'," she said.

The President spoke to the media after touring the polytechnic's Student Care Centre, which caters to students with mental health issues and special educational needs, among other needs.

The 208 sq m centre was opened in June last year after a revamp.

It now has two rooms for conferences, five for counselling, two sensory rooms and an assistive technology library, where students with special needs can borrow assistive devices.

The sensory rooms are private and quiet places for students who may be prone to anxiety issues or panic attacks.

They provide a space for the students to calm themselves when they are feeling anxious in school.

Madam Halimah lauded RP for its efforts in providing support for its students.

Ms Sher Yuan, a second-year student reading pharmaceutical science, said she frequently visits the centre and makes use of the sensory rooms.

The 18-year-old has autism spectrum disorder.

"When I'm feeling stressed, I'll go to the centre to revise my homework or have a quick chat with the counsellors," said Ms Sher.

"The sensory rooms help me to calm down. One time, I had an outburst after an exam paper because I felt it was so difficult and I felt my parents expectations and my own expectations were very high."

The sensory rooms are private and quiet places for students who may be prone to anxiety issues or panic attacks. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The rooms are also equipped with a panic button for students to alert a counsellor in times of emergency.

The polytechnic said that before the Covid-19 pandemic, around 20 to 30 students visited the Student Care Centre daily for a variety of reasons - financial aid queries, counselling matters, scholarships, and student support issues such as shuttle bus services, as well as to borrow assistive technology equipment.

Madam Halimah also visited the polytechnic's agriculture technology laboratory during her visit on Thursday.

The lab, which uses technology to optimise plant growth, is used mainly by students in its School of Applied Science. The lab also hosts Continuing Education and Training (CET) adult learners.

It was launched in January last year.

President Halimah Yacob tours Republic Polytechinc's Agriculture Technology Laboratory. PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

"This lab provides a platform for students to gain real experience in the needs of the agritech industry. So I think in this way, RP is supporting our goal of 30 by 30 and helping to grow the industry," Madam Halimah said.

The 30 by 30 goal is for Singapore to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.

"This is really the need of the future... The normal way of growing food is no longer going to be very sustainable in the long term, because of the tremendous use of land, energy and water.

"So we need to come up with urban solutions in farming," added the President.

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