S'pore schools offer mental health support to students affected by River Valley High School incident

River Valley High School staff waiting outside the grounds as students returned to the school on Wednesday, after a public holiday on Tuesday. An alleged murder at the school on Monday has shaken the nation.
River Valley High School staff waiting outside the grounds as students returned to the school on Wednesday, after a public holiday on Tuesday. An alleged murder at the school on Monday has shaken the nation.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Schools around the island have told students that they can approach teachers and counsellors to discuss Monday's (July 19) alleged murder at River Valley High School, which has shaken the nation.

At least six notices have been sent since Tuesday evening by principals of multiple primary and secondary schools, including St Margaret's Primary School and Maris Stella High School, addressing the incident and offering psychological support to their students and staff.

The Straits Times understands that several principals spoke about the incident during school assemblies - including at Juying Secondary School and Singapore Chinese Girls' School - on Wednesday to remedy any anxieties.

On Tuesday, a 16-year-old student from River Valley High School was charged with murder in a district court. He cannot be named as he is under 18 years old.

A few principals also prayed for the families and students affected by the tragedy.

Over at Methodist Girls' School, principal Grace Ng appealed to parents in a letter to help their children process the incident, while offering help from school counsellors and form teachers.

Ms Ng said: "It will be important to help our children understand that this is indeed an exceptional incident and tragedy, and that schools remain a safe and caring space due to the systems we have in place."

In a notice to parents and guardians, Mrs Mary Seah, principal of School of the Arts Singapore (Sota), outlined how its teachers will talk to students about the alleged murder, which included acknowledging that it is normal to fear and worry for their safety, as well as the tightening of school security.

Mrs Seah added in the letter: "In spite of all these rules, security features and emergency preparedness, the mental health of our students remains the most important factor as we learn from this incident."

Parents told ST that they are rattled by the incident and concerned about how to discuss what happened with their children as young as Primary 1, some of whom have heard about the incident from their friends and classmates.

A 48-year-old housewife who wanted to be known as Mrs Kam said: "I had to stabilise myself before talking to my children about the incident. I never thought it would happen on our shores."

Her two children attend Maris Stella High School and St Margaret's Secondary School, which have taken different approaches in addressing the matter either by speaking to the students directly or asking them to pen down their thoughts in class.

She said: "Whether or not a letter was sent to parents, it gives me peace of mind that schools are trying their best to help students."

Mrs Esther Foong, whose children, aged eight and 10, attend Rulang Primary School, added: “I think the school did a good job (in helping pupils to understand the incident) because my daughter told me how she learnt to show more care and concern for her friends.”

The 36-year-old co-founder of The Treasure Box Sg, which equips and provides resources for families, added: "We have been having conversations to help our children understand the incident.

"I think everyone plays a part, not just teachers, in helping students to be more gracious in their speech and actions as well as looking after their mental welfare."

For many parents, the incident has been a reminder to pay attention to their children's mental health.

Said Mrs Kam: "It's a wake-up call to us parents on how we speak to our children - to not be too strict with their studies and to check up on them."

Housewife Pichaya Sretthoe, 44, whose daughter is a Secondary 1 Sota student, said parents at the school have started a survey to see how they can help support their children's mental well-being.

She said: "This incident does not make me feel less confident of school safety, as this could happen anywhere... I am more concerned about how I should deal with my own kid at home - how to help her have a healthy mind, and how to prevent her from having dangerous thoughts that may result in her harming herself or others."

Additional reporting by Gabrielle Ng


Getting help

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am - 12am)

Mental well-being

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)

Counselling

TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252  (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)