Dr Cheong, Chairman, Mind Science Centre
Associate Professor John Wong, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine
Professors, Keynote Speakers, Distinguished Panellists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am extremely happy and privileged to be here with you at the Academic Symposium titled: The Emotional Challenges of Youth and Resilience Building, jointly organised by NUS Mind Science Centre and Department of Psychological Medicine at NUS Medicine. Many of us, whether we are a researcher or effective practitioner, know how important mental well-being is for the entire population. We have a spotlight today on youths, specifically on the 10 to 19=year olds for which the YEAR study was conducted on; it is not that the years before or after that are unimportant, but rather the study is very specific, looking at stressors, challenges, feedback and input from the 10 to 19-year olds so we can better understand what impacts them at this transformative stage of their lives.
2. We all know that whatever happens at this stage of their life has a very long-term impact into what they will become subsequently as they reach adulthood. And let us not forget that there are also intergenerational impacts when it comes to learning. How these youths subsequently become adults, then parents and what they then translate and teach their children, all of that comes from within themselves - their own mental well-being, health, how they approach happiness, contentment, satisfaction. So, this is a very important occasion for us today, looking at research findings, understanding what it means and more importantly, how we can translate that into programmes on the ground so that we can help our youths. This is so that when they become adults and parents themselves, they are able to inculcate the values, ways of positive thinking and all that will impact our next generation.
3. As I mentioned, the emphasis on mental health has never been much greater, and I’m delighted to hear today of the research findings by Professor John Wong and his team. This symposium, with its series of keynote lectures, topical sharing, and panel discussions, will allow us to better understand the new research findings and how to better understand and manage the unique emotional needs of our youths.
IMPORTANCE OF RESILIENCE AND PARENTAL SUPPORT ON THE MENTAL WELL-BEING OF OUR YOUTHS
4. We all know that growing up is a very exciting stage of life. There are endless possibilities of who we can be, who we desire to be, how we can set out to become the persons we want to be. But at the same time, this process can be challenging to our youths. They face many stressors in life, from expectations on their work and studies, to their relationships with family members and friends, to their expectations and dreams of the future. This is of course even more challenging because we have just been out of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, because of COVID-19 measures, youths may not have had the opportunity to interact and socialise with their peers as much as they would like to., They also have fears and uncertainties about their future. Some of their educational pathways may have been disrupted due to the different practices of COVID-19 management measures around the world. All that had led to uncertainty in their lives. The YEAR study, which is the NUS Youth Epidemiology and Resilience Study, had looked specifically at four key areas – mental health, resilience, identity development and media activity use.
5. One conclusion from the study is that there is a strong association between mental health and resilience and that it is important to support our youths to build a sense of resilience so that we can better deal with and manage challenges and adversities in life. The second conclusion is that there is room for parents to be more involved when it comes to identifying and supporting their children's mental health. The third conclusion is that building resilience would aid in the prevention and remedy of identity disturbances and mental health difficulties among our youths. The last conclusion is that there is a crucial need for educators and parents alike to be educated on how to reap the benefits of the digital space. We all recognise that these are increasingly using digital media, and that digital media can become a source of emotional regulation and parents and educators need to recognise that they have a critical role to play in helping their children establish strong foundations of media literacy, so that the children, our young people, can harness the positive benefits of using digital media.
EXISTING EFFORTS BY THE GOVERNMENT AND COMMUNITY PARTNERS IN SUPPORTING YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH
6. I would like to also share that the YEAR study complements other studies and work that the Government is doing. Some of you may have heard about the NCSS Children and Youths Quality of Life Study, or QOL in short, and this was carried out between 2017 and 2019. The QOL study found that positive family function, which refers to the family’s ability to solve problems and spend time together as a unit plays a key role in the psychological and overall well-being of children and youths without (mental) health conditions. I believe this would be even more so for youths with mental health conditions. So this further emphasises the point on the importance of the family unit and the role of parents.
7. You would also know that there was an Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being for youths. The Taskforce has been working on initiatives to enhance the landscape of services for youths to ensure that these services are more coordinated and easily available. So one of these initiatives is a tiered care model for mental health services which will build capacity in community mental health services. This will help youths with varying levels of mental health needs to receive quality care in a timely manner.
8. Apart from this, the Taskforce has also been working on support for parents, so you can see how the work of the Taskforce closely mirrors the research findings that you have presented today. The Taskforce has focused on coming up with a Parents’ Toolbox with knowledge, skills, and actionable strategies, for parents to support their children’s mental health and well-being. It will also include content on parenting in the digital age, such as helping parents encourage their children to use social media and technology in positive ways. Another key recommendation from the Taskforce is to empower our youths to create safe and supportive spaces online that promote peer support and resilience building.
9. What I found very interesting was the domains that were listed out in the Singapore Youth Resilience scale; there were 10 domains listed out, multi-dimensional, used to measure resilience. I thought that it was very helpful because it allows us to think about what are the areas in which we can do something about, focus our efforts on, to build resilience in our youths. Resilience is a very big word. We roughly know what resilience means, but how do you instil a sense of resilience? So it is helpful if we first try to break down the different components where we can actually understand resilience. And these are the 10 domains that you’ve listed down – (1) perseverance and commitment, (2) positive self image and optimism, (3) relationship and social support, (4) positive thinking, (5) emotional regulation, (6) faith (7) personal confidence and responsibility, (8) personal control, (9) flexibility and (10) positive coping. Each and every domain is a challenge to us, as practitioners, as teachers and counsellors, social service agencies on the ground. What kind of community programmes can we develop on the ground to help build resilience in our youths? And you can build all the different components of resilience, based on the 10 domains listed out. For instance, when you talk about perseverance and commitment, how do we build this in our children? For perseverance you could look at sports for instance. Sports is often a co-curricular activity in schools, can we also have sports activities in the community, because we want to ensure that this sporting activity is available both in school and outside school. What about during the school holidays, what about after you graduate from school or before you go to formal education? We should ask ourselves what programmes should we have on the ground to reinforce perseverance and resilience in our children.
10. Next is personal confidence. Much has been said about all of us not assessing our children not just based on their academic achievements. And this applies to the whole of society. The reason I bring this up is because, I think for many of our youth in Singapore, their self-confidence is tied to how they think they are doing in school; their academic qualifications. If you broaden the definition of success, if you're able to develop your confidence in other areas like art, music, culture, sports, and so on, have other determinants that help them build self-confidence. And when we help them develop themselves as confident individuals, it means so much to them when it comes to building that inner sense of resilience so they can better manage other challenges and adversities that come their way.. What can we have as community programs at your community level, working with schools, working with stakeholders so that we can build resilience in our children and youths? I think that is a central question we need to ask ourselves next, after we discuss the research findings.
11. I would like to end off by saying that the Government is looking into this. Apart from the Taskforce and its recommendations, many of the Ministries, who are represented here today – MOE, MSF, MOH are all very actively looking at what we can do in their domains to better help our children build resilience and better manage the use of digital media so that it becomes a positive contributor to their mental health.
12. MOE has strengthened measures to help students stay resilient amidst challenges. For example, greater emphasis has been placed on Mental Health Education within the refreshed Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum. All students learn about healthy mindsets, habits, and skills to strengthen their mental health and well-being. Students learn to differentiate normal stress from distress and mental illness, so that they can seek help before becoming overwhelmed. These CCE lessons also teach them to break negative thinking patterns, overcome social emotional problems, seek help when they need to, and manage their emotions.
13. We all have a role to play – children, youths, counsellors, parents, community stakeholders – how can we all come together to support the well-being of our children and youths.
14. Thank you