Causes Week 2018: Plugging the gap in mental health support

Trainees who have undergone training at the Heal Club (from left), Nur Nabiilah Mohamed Hanifah, Nuur Hayyu Nariah Nasir, Siti Nurulfikriyah Jaini and Harie Hadi Khairuddin Joe Harie, at the club's centre in Bukit Batok East. PHOTO: ST FILE

When 24-year-old Hayyu Nariah Nasir was still at university, she saw many of her peers volunteering at orphanages and old folks' homes, whereas hardly any seemed to be reaching out to the mental health institutions.

"There's a stigma attached," said the Nanyang Technological University psychology graduate, who works as an English teacher at a private enrichment centre.

In her third year of university in 2016, Ms Hayyu took up an internship with Club Heal, a non-profit organisation that provides rehabilitation and counselling services to persons with mental health issues. While she was there, she saw how the lack of manpower was an issue in the field of mental healthcare.

That prompted her to band together with nine like-minded schoolmates in September 2016 to found Project Weave, a platform for the youth to volunteer with people struggling with mental health issues. The organisation, so-called because it aims to knit people back into society, has about 50 active volunteers.

Every Friday, the group partners with other organisations to conduct activities such as silat, football and dance for people with mental illnesses.

"I've always been a movement-based person. I believe that in order to de-stress, you've got to move," Ms Hayyu said.

The programmes, which are financed through fund-raising drives and grants from the National Youth Council, Mendaki and NTU's CoLab4Good Fund, are changed monthly to allow the beneficiaries to learn new skill sets and meet new people.

Mr Daryl Tan, a peer support specialist at Club Heal, said: "We bring in new faces so that more people will get to understand what individuals struggling with mental health issues are like. When volunteers see them at their best - having fun, being happy and carefree - it removes the divide between the two parties."

Ms Hayyu believes that the programmes also help to boost the self-confidence of persons with mental health issues and their sense of responsibility.

Citing a Club Heal event for Hari Raya last year, where they had practised three months to perform a dikir barat dance routine, she said participants were committed and took charge of their own learning.

"They would tell me, 'Please teach me this. I need to get it done. I'm going to be on a platform and showcase to people that I can do it too.'"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2018, with the headline Plugging the gap in mental health support. Subscribe