ST Singaporean of the Year award a real win for mental health, says recipient

Brahm Centre founder hopes recognition will inspire more to talk about 'underinvested' issue

For her contributions to society in helping those with mental health issues, as well as the elderly, Ms Angie Chew was named The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2019 on Tuesday evening (Feb 11) at the Istana.

After overcoming her own struggles, Ms Angie Chew, 56, channelled her efforts towards helping others by setting up centres that provide emotional and mental support.

For her contributions to society in helping those with mental health issues, as well as the elderly, Ms Chew was named The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2019 yesterday at the Istana.

She said receiving the award was "a real win for mental health", as it is an area that is underinvested, with more resources devoted to physical ailments than mental health problems.

She added: "I hope this will also inspire more people to talk about their mental illness and also give support to people who have mental illness, because it's not an easy journey (and is) often misunderstood."

Ms Chew started Brahm Centre in 2012 to provide free health education, as well as other services such as befriending, counselling and dementia screening for seniors who are frail and lonely. There are now three centres, with a fourth to open later this year. The centres also teach mindfulness skills to help people better cope with stress.

Last year, Brahm Centre launched a hotline to offer support to students and parents in distress, in response to increased rates of depression and suicide among young people.

Ms Chew said her own struggles in life gave her the strength to help others. She cared for her mother with dementia, endured years of emotional bullying at work and grappled with depression.

She turned to mindfulness in a bid to refocus her life, and realised there was a gap in support for those struggling emotionally or mentally.

That was when she decided to "light a candle" for others who were going through similar dark times.

Yesterday, Ms Chew received a trophy and a $20,000 cash prize from President Halimah Yacob.

The other 10 finalists who were in the running received $5,000 each.

They are education consultant Chalmers Chin; delivery rider Muhammad Riau Alfian; entrepreneur Gillian Tee; policeman Ahmad Fauzi Sani; hedge fund founder Danny Yong; Carousell founders Quek Siu Rui, Marcus Tan and Lucas Ngoo; students Seng Ian Hao and Seng Ing Le; Abraham Yeo and Homeless Hearts of Singapore; civil servant Sarabjeet Singh; and botanist Veera Sekaran.

The final decision was made by a judging panel of 14 who were guided by online voting by members of the public.


Judges included editors from The Straits Times, social entrepreneur and activist Saleemah Ismail, civil servant Aaron Maniam, Singapore Airlines chief executive Goh Choon Phong and Institute of Technical Education chief executive Low Khah Gek.

The 2018 award was given to interfaith champion Siti Noor Mastura, who co-founded non-profit organisation Interfaith Youth Circle.

Madam Noriza A. Mansor, 55, the 2015 award recipient who won hearts when she helped an elderly man who had soiled himself in public, said Ms Chew is a very inspiring figure to many people.

"Addressing mental health challenges is not easy. It takes a lot of patience and passion," she added.


Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times, said: "Mental health and well-being, not least among our young, are a growing issue of concern, in Singapore as well as around the world.

"As the world grows more complex and seems to move ever faster, everyone could do with some help in slowing things down and finding a little peace and quiet in our minds and lives.

"The Brahm Centre, founded by Angie Chew, has been a source of help and comfort for many grappling with this in our society. For her leadership, kindness and inspiration to others, she is a worthy winner of the Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2020, with the headline 'ST award a real win for mental health, says recipient'. Subscribe