SINGAPORE - Youth today live in a complex and fast-paced world and their challenges are intensified by the Internet where comparisons with others are constant, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (July 27).
This adds another layer of social pressure for young people, who are already facing family and peer relationships, expectations of themselves and their parents, and the difficulties of coping with the rigours of Singapore's education system, he added.
Mr Chan said Singapore's approach to helping youth with their mental health is to not only strengthen the overall ecosystem of support, but also engender a more caring and nurturing environment.
To that end, there are support structures in place in schools, ranging from preventive efforts to programmes to identify and intervene when it involves students at risk, he said in a ministerial statement in Parliament on the death last week of a River Valley High School student.
These efforts include the peer support networks that are being set up in all schools.
Mr Chan said: "Our hope is for all students to learn how to sit with a friend who is distressed, show empathy and care, and encourage him or her to seek help from trusted adults like parents, teachers or counsellors."
He added that all teachers have basic counselling skills and are meant to keep a watchful eye over their students and provide a listening ear, and to reach out to students if they sense something wrong.
Mr Chan said students also have access to another group of teachers with special training, known as teacher counsellors, and each school's counsellor, who is able to provide dedicated support.
School counsellors are also able to refer students to professionals outside schools such as those in the Response, Early Intervention and Assessment in Community Mental Health (Reach) teams or other social service agencies, he added.
"This support network works most effectively when the partnership with parents is strong," he said.
Mr Chan added that there are is also a new Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum, which began this year at the lower secondary levels.
He said: "It includes enhanced features on mental health education, designed to develop our students' mental health literacy.
"For example, they learn to differentiate normal stress from distress and mental illness, so that they can seek help before becoming overwhelmed."
Mr Chan also said that over and above dealing with the problems of adolescence, today's youth are learning to cope with the pressures of a competitive, high-performing environment.
He said: "We cannot shield our children from pressure entirely, any more than we can shield them from the common challenges of adolescence.
"But we must do all we can to help our children find themselves and find their footing in an intense environment."
Responding to a question from Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), Mr Chan said Singapore must be careful to ensure that the definition of success is not dictated by others.
Mr Yam had asked how Singapore’s education landscape could evolve to become less pressurising.
Mr Chan said it is important to be aware that people do well in life across many dimensions.
He said: “Remember that we have a broad definition of success... We all don’t have to go after the same yardstick.
“We all can, in our own way, contribute in different capacities to the development of our nation.”