According to a Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2016, while one in seven in Singapore has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime, more than three-quarters did not seek any professional help. The study also found that youth aged 18 to 34 were the most vulnerable group – one in five would have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime.
With mental health challenges arise, what can teenagers and young adults do to get the support they need?
In May 2021, FamChamps held its inaugural Be.Live Conference for over 600 young people from over 20 schools, undergraduate Sophia Sng shared about her struggles with anxiety through her growing years.
Although her first panic attack occurred during her PSLE year, she continued to face academic and other forms of stress in secondary school.
She described, “As the number of subjects increased and the weight of the examinations got bigger, I continued to experience academic stress. On top of that, my family went through a very difficult period of time during my O-level year, and because of my issues with my family, I started to experience a very high level of stress again…and I didn’t know who to talk to.”
For another Be.Live speaker Christina Wong, it wasn’t anxiety or worry that was plaguing her, but rather the tensions that were present within her own family. Triggered by financial difficulties after the Asian Financial Crisis, her parents’ relationship deteriorated, resulting in a cold war that lasted more than 10 years. The 27-year-old designer and sole breadwinner also shared that her self-esteem took a beating as she grew up in a difficult and tense environment.
Although her stresses arose from a different source, she too struggled with finding someone to talk to. “I didn't have the courage to speak up about it to anyone, and I also struggled to find the vocabulary to do so.”
Take the first step to open up
Sophia privately coped with her anxiety attached in the first few years, and she didn’t tell her family members about it.
But a few years ago, during her first year of university, she mustered the courage to confide in them.
Though it was not an easy thing to do, and at that point her parents did not know how to respond, Sophia explains that it was driven by the realisation that she really needed to have such conversations with her family if she was going to heal and recover.
“After that, I felt a sense of relief knowing that they knew what I was going through,” shared Sophia. She would even go on long walks with her dad, where the duo would chat about what is going on in their lives. She believes that this would not have been a safe avenue for her to share details about her life if she had not opened up to her parents.
“I didn't have the courage to speak up about it to anyone, and I also struggled to find the vocabulary to do so.”
Be intentional in carving safe spaces
Having come some way in her journey toward stronger mental health, Sophia thinks that it is better to cultivate safe spaces (whether among family or a select group of friends) where we can express and process our worries and anxieties, rather than letting it build up.
She said, “Worry itself is not the problem, but how we choose to respond to our worries.”
Christina also managed to connect with some friends who were facing similar situations at home. She said, “Just knowing that you’re not alone, and that there are people in similarly tricky family situations makes a lot of difference. There is a lot of strength in leaning on one another and confiding in one another about our struggles at home.”
“Remember not to lose yourself in that situation, and remember to take care of yourself.”
Know yourself and what you need
When asked what she felt helped her the most during those difficult times, Sophia identified two key things:
Empathy – Acknowledge that this is someone who’s going through a mental health challenge right now, and that it could happen to anyone.
Listening – Simply be present and listen attentively when they need to talk, rather than rush to give advice.
We all have parents or friends who try to be helpful by dishing out advice, and many of us are probably guilty of this too, but it is crucial not to skip the step of listening to understand the person first. Author David Ausburger puts it beautifully, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
For Christina, while she didn’t really have a safe space at home to talk about her struggles, she decided to live one day at a time, and to take things one step at a time.
She also made self-care a priority for herself. “Remember not to lose yourself in that situation, and remember to take care of yourself. When things are too hard-going, try to think about the future, and about things that motivate you,” she added.
“Know that it’s okay to feel anxious and worried.”
It’s okay to feel difficult feelings
For youths out there who struggle with feelings of hopelessness or anxiety, Sophia had this to say: “Know that it’s okay to feel anxious and worried. You don’t have to fear those feelings but keep processing it on your own and don’t give up on cultivating safe spaces for yourself.”
As for Christina, her feelings of hopelessness or resignation never did go away completely, but what she did learn was to turn those feelings into something else, and to focus not just on the feelings but also how she could respond.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
If you or someone you know is going through a mental health struggle, know that you do not need to go through it alone. There are avenues available for professional help, such as counselling, and it is also helpful to find a trusted friend or family member to talk to. Taking the first step may be difficult, but it can open doors to greater understanding, trust and healing.
Join us for our upcoming Raising Future-Ready Kids: Suicide Prevention & Mental Health webinar and learn how to recognise signs of anxiety, depression and mental health challenges, know what to do in the event your child experiences a mental health crisis, and have critical conversations about life and death.
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