Youth find help for mental health issues in TikTok tie-up with support groups in S'pore

Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling (seated, in green) at a graduation ceremony on Thursday for volunteers who went through a training programme as part of TikTok’s Youth for Good initiative. PHOTO: TIKTOK

SINGAPORE - More than 160 young people have reached out to mental health organisations for help through video-sharing platform TikTok since it began its Youth for Good initiative in December last year.

They asked questions like where they could go for help, whether their requests would be kept confidential, and what to do if they had nobody to turn to, said TikTok's Head of Public Policy Southeast Asia Teresa Tan.

Most of the 160 students contacted the organisations during a two-month period between April and May this year, she added, when a large number of help organisations joined the programme.

TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is a video-sharing app popular among young people worldwide, including many teenagers.

The initiative included an eight-week training programme for about 50 volunteers, who learnt in weekly two-hour sessions about video production and mental health-related issues like cyber bullying.

Their role is to help reduce the stigma of mental health issues by creating short-form videos of their own experiences or other mental health-related content.

Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling attended their graduation ceremony on Thursday (Sept 16). Speaking to The Straits Times via Zoom afterwards, she said: "We are concerned about youth mental health and must find channels to reach out to them. Many of them get their information from social media, so it is important for us to find ways to connect with them there."

She added that the Ministry of Education has been placing emphasis on growing a peer-support culture in schools, as well as engaging with parents on their children's mental health and ensuring the well-being of teachers.

The training was done in collaboration with local non-profit organisations, including Campus PSY, Care Corner, Care Singapore, Fei Yue Community Services, Samaritans of Singapore, Silver Ribbon (Singapore), and Touch Community Services, which themselves were trained by TikTok.

Ms Tan said the Youth for Good initiative is part of the company's aim to create a positive online culture and to help socially isolated individuals - the "silent vulnerable" - find communities of support.

She added that the next step would be to begin engaging mental health professionals to create content on the app.

Architect Josiah Leong, 31, and start-up founder Elaine Yeoh, 28, who both graduated from the training programme, said it had helped give them the skills to both communicate and address mental health issues raised by their audiences.

Ms Yeoh, whose start up shin.tsugi is a mental health service for youth, said: "The programme helped me understand what resources are out there and how to help people find them, and strategies to help clear up misconceptions about mental health."

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