SINGAPORE - A society-wide effort is needed to prevent tragic incidents like the death of the River Valley High School student from happening again, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (July 27).
He highlighted the need for a community safety net for everyone - especially young people - and encouraged people to look within their social circles for a start.
"Reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness," said Mr Chan as he appealed to the public to not stigmatise those who come forward to seek help - be they students, staff, parents or families.
"Let this incident motivate all of us to take down our barriers and treat struggling individuals who step forward with care and compassion," he told the House.
The minister called on families to spend more time listening to the thoughts and feelings of their children, letting them share what they find stressful and giving them space to process their emotions.
Sharing his own experience as a parent, Mr Chan said: "We can have more frank conversations with our children and families on the definition of success.
"As a parent myself, I have come to realise that success must be defined by helping my children realise their own potential, developing their own strengths and helping them to be confident in themselves."
"Success cannot, should not and must not be the constant need to be compared with someone else and having to live up to somebody else's image," he added.
The greatest assurance parents can give their children is to give them the confidence to find their own way, he said.
Mr Chan also called on the public to break "vicious cycles of negativity" by standing up for others and responding with grace and compassion.
He said: "We can stop toxic conversations online and amplify messages of strength, care and positivity through our online networks instead.
"All of us can be kind to each other and look out for one another, no matter how tough the competition might be or how intense the pressure might be."
The Ministry of Education (MOE) will strengthen its partnership with parents through parent support groups, he said, adding sub-groups can be formed within such groups to focus on the mental well-being of children and families.
Meanwhile, MOE will continue to provide support to the school community, including the affected families, while monitoring the well-being of students from other schools.
He added that the Health Ministry and Ministry of Social and Family Development have set up an interagency task force to develop an overarching plan to address mental health and well-being.
Concluding his speech, Mr Chan commended the school and students for managing the incident as well as the principal, who was on medical leave, for rushing back to school to personally handle the incident.
He said: “It takes an entire community to help look out for one another, to pick up warning indicators that something may not be going well with an individual close to us, to provide support and comfort to those who may be troubled.”
Sharing some words posted on the River Valley High School tribute page, which has drawn more than 3,000 contributions, he said: “Rest if you must, cry if you must, for when your eyes can finally see clearly, you will see all of us standing in solidarity.”
Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer) asked if MOE would take note of students who are seeking psychiatric treatment at public and private hospitals and clinics so that educators will be better prepared to support them.
Mr Chan said MOE respects the patient confidentiality of students who seek help. But if the Home Affairs and Health ministries assess that a distressed individual could pose a threat to the community, the authorities will work with community partners to manage the situation, he added.
“It’s a fine balance,” he said. “We do not want to put off people seeking help because they think that they might be stigmatised or that their medical records will be shared with others.”
In his replies to other MPs, Mr Chan reiterated the importance of not ostracising those who are in distress, and instead accepting and supporting them.
“Mental distress that some members of our community go through can happen to any one of us,” he said.
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am - 12am)
Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg website (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm)
Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928/6509-0271 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)/ Tinkle Friend website (Mon to Thu, 2.30pm to 7pm and Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)
TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)