How to Support Our Youth as They Cope With Mental Health Struggles
In a normal world, without Covid-19, being a young person can be tough. Hormonal changes, peer pressure, social media, and workload can snap even the most emotionally resilient student. Now with the additional challenges that the pandemic has brought upon us, students have an even harder time venting, finding support and getting the help they need. As parents, we have more on our plate, and that limits our ability to always be the best for our children. From Covid-19 restrictions to coping with working from home arrangements and top that all off with the Asian mentality of brushing things under the carpet without prioritising mental health—we can all be stretched to breaking points.
I am sure parents held their kids a little closer after last week's tragic incident at River Valley High School and made a silent prayer for the grieving parents whose child will never return. But what can we learn and what can we do to prevent this from ever happening again?
Break the Stigma
I think the first thing we need to do for our community is to smash and break all stigma associated with mental health. In our Asian context, we believe people who need psychologists, counsellors or therapists are dealing with first world problems and perhaps don’t have the grit and capability to deal with their issues. We believe in putting our heads down and carrying on. We don’t want to give light to our issues, and to speak about them is weak. Yet, we are all suffering, in some way or another. It could be anything: a crumbling marriage, family stress, health or financial worries, a difficult child, or just being alone and away from family. No one is smooth sailing through life on a bed of roses. We need to remind ourselves of that.
We need to know strength is dealing with all things hard and challenging and having tools and solutions to combat them and stand back up again. Sometimes we have the tools, and other times, we need help. We need to speak to others who can provide us with advice, a listening ear, or a safety net so we can fall. It breaks my heart knowing educators are trained to provide help to students, and that a multitude of professional help exists, but we still timidly skirt our issues and don’t accept our shortcomings before it’s too late. Asking for help is not weak; talking and expressing ourselves is brave.
As a Parent
With my journey of establishing Getting to Happy, I constantly strive to help empower my own children to communicate, express and talk to me about the things they feel, experience or find extremely hard to bring up. Lara and Arian are still young and dealing with teenagers is an entirely different ball game. They are exposed to more on social media and the stress they feel on a daily basis can turn the happiest child into a taciturn depressed little soul. As parents, we cannot possibly be there 24/7 or for every high and low our children experience on an everyday basis. It is simply not realistic. We need to be forgiving towards ourselves too as parents. But we simultaneously need to create an environment that conveys the message that no person is perfect, that we all fail, and that we all need help during difficult moments of our lives.
This week, I told my daughter Lara, 11, that her strength really helped support me through this week. To some, it may seem weak that I propped my child up as a support system, but in reality, we all do that for each other. If we are unable to give thanks and show weakness and vulnerability as parents, how can we expect our kids to come forth and do the same? We have to try our best as parents to understand our children not only need us to provide a roof over their head, financial support or to drive them to tuition centres. They need to know that we will not judge them for whatever or however they may feel. That we are there to listen, support and offer protection and advice. Crying, sharing feelings doesn’t make our children weak, but it makes them superstars for finding their voice and being unafraid to show their darkest deepest emotions. It is our responsibility to help where we can or to provide external help if that is what is needed. We make the fundamental mistake of not saying this to our kids and expecting them to know this. We must use our words carefully and authentically, so they know we are there for them.
See also: How to Overcome ‘Quarantine Fatigue’
Schools have to change how much they prioritise mental well-being in their students. During this fragile time, pushing kids to excel in every subject at the cost of their physical and mental health leads only to a depressive burnt-out student. I think there are students who can cope and have a supportive network to rely on, but others may need external help and schools can be that place.
Schools are where students spend the majority of their lives as they interact, learn and grow so it is equally important that educators adapt the academic system to incorporate healthy habits. These healthy habits must be cultivated into education at early ages so that it builds the foundation for students to thrive when they learn. Teach them tools like meditation, showing gratitude, exercise, complimenting others, acts of kindness, limiting the use of tech devices, getting adequate sleep, fresh air and so on. With the science of wellness being such a hot topic now, backed by evidence, we know that when we do these things, we can cope better with life’s daily challenges.
See also: 8 Ways to Start Your Day Positively
Getting to Happy
When I launched the Getting to Happy Kid’s Edition box set of cards, I spoke to many people in the education sector in Singapore, and honestly many saw the benefits of how using the cards could increase mental and physical well-being. But the issue stemmed from finding a balance of how to quantify its benefits in our children’s lives in comparison to a rigorous class guaranteed to boost your child’s mark. What is most important to educators, parents and the students? Only when tragic incidents like last week's occur do we see a need to prioritise mental health. Life is unpredictable, tougher than ever now, and so many of us are at breaking points.
As parents, be there to encourage your kids to speak up and speak openly, not only of their highs but more importantly their lows. Educators should find a way to incorporate the science of well-being into practice. Not as a quarterly event but as daily habits that will shape and influence how these kids build resilience, gratitude and tools to cope with life’s challenges. And lastly to our community, which tries so hard to live in picture-perfect silent worlds, do break down your walls and seek help when necessary. Let us be a community that genuinely wants to help and support the mental health of these vulnerable young people in Singapore.
For more ways to help support your children, reach out to us at Getting to Happy, for our box set of cards that are designed to be daily reminders and boost in happiness and well-being.
For additional help, please find the professional advice of our partners at the Positive Movement, founded by Claire Ong.