It is oft said that the smallest coffins are the heaviest, and the recent ruling of a young 11-year-old boy’s passing as suicide is no exception. A tragedy no doubt, it acts as a poignant reminder of the fragility of our mental health and emotional well-being. According to reports by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), an agency focusing on suicide prevention, the number of suicides for people aged between 10-19 and 20-29 have increased annually, despite overall suicide rates falling. Students and working professionals in these age groups are arguably among those highest at risk of both depression and suicidal thoughts, largely due to their high levels of exposure to daily stressors.
Now, all this information may be hitting a bit too close to home. You have to attend endless (futile) group project meetings, your preparation for finals is abysmal, your significant other seems to constantly be in conflict with you, you feel like your mother calls you every hour on the hour to check why you’re staying back late in school again (making you question life itself) and on top of everything, you ironically have to read an article about stress.
It’s going to be okay.
Hear me out. It is a macabre picture to paint, but as you are reading this, many of you or your friends around you may be going through a multitude of ordeals which remain hidden behind practiced smiles. Some are school-related and others aren’t. Whatever the origins of the difficulty one is going through though, the impetus to banish it from their lives still remains the same: to achieve some semblance of sanity. This starts by prioritising one’s own mental health and emotional needs, part of which entails engaging in good mental health practices, as well as mindfulness.
Those of us studying at Singapore Management University (SMU) are pretty lucky. Sure we have mandated community involvement projects and the godforsaken module we abhorrently refer to as CAT, but we also have something most universities lack: a support system that permeates right through to the curriculum. See, despite the increasing recognition of achieving good mental health and wellness as critical, many institutions including universities lack the infrastructure needed to provide students with a holistic environment where mental well-being is given precedence.
Source: SMU blog
In SMU, our dual support system is structured in a complementary way. Traditional counsellors still remain the primary source of help for those in need, but comprising part of our emotional safety net are the SMU Peer Helpers (PH). As a CCA, they consist entirely of students who are trained in skills that allow them to assist others who may be in distress. In recognising that the experience of visiting a counsellor was possibly daunting, PH was conceived to ensure that the student body in SMU continually had an alternative avenue to receive the support they needed.
With week 11 waiting around the bend ready to assault us, I decided to ask them how we all could achieve good mental health by dealing with our stressors, and what we should do if we, or anyone else we knew, were depressed or had suicidal thoughts.
Dealing with stress
According to the very knowledgeable members of PH I spoke to, the top stressors in SMU based on their experiences are school-related (poor performance in school and issues with group mates) and/or relationship-related (conflicts with significant others or family members). It is not uncommon for seemingly happy-go-lucky individuals to be under intense pressure internally but show no visible signs of distress externally. Hence, if you or someone you know possess any of the following behaviours, it may be time to seek help.
Withdrawal from social situations (e.g. constant refusal to have lunch with friends)
Constantly feeling irritated (e.g. snapping at others even when unprovoked)
Inability to control one’s emotions (e.g. breaking down over small issues)
Inability to sleep (e.g. insomnia)
Poor performance in school (e.g. doing badly on topics one usually excels at)
This list is non-exhaustive, but merely serves as a reference point for individuals to assess themselves, or to evaluate the mental state of those around them. I’m told that doing so is crucial, because identification is the stepping stone to seeking help. This brings us to some common stress-reduction techniques
Verbalise: Identify and either voice out or write down what you are stressed about. It is an exercise that can be done individually or with another person.
Goal-Setting: After you’ve found out what you’re stressed about, decide what would alleviate it. Then define how to achieve this and list it down. Put easier and smaller goals on top, allowing you to gain confidence in your ability to overcome such challenges in your life.
Take a break: Probably the most overlooked yet simplest strategy; learn to devote time for yourself. It seems counter-intuitive but this simple act will help you complete that 10,000-word dissertation due next week, rather than inhibit it. It is paramount that during this break, you completely rest your mind and not think about your stressor at all.
The above pointers are some simple yet highly effective self-help techniques that will no doubt ease your stress. PH members however maintain that should you feel you are under severe distress, coming down to Cosy Haven to talk to one of them may be a more effective option. There are always duty officers in Cosy Haven who are equipped with the necessary skills to help you should you require it. It is a private, non-judgmental, and safe environment in which anybody is welcome. It is also a place where one can come to relax, even if they aren’t stressed! Message chairs, gaming consoles and books with lounge couches are only a few of the many amenities available there.
Depression and Suicidal Thoughts
Sometimes, the stress that one faces may be too great for them to bear, ultimately manifesting itself in depression or self-harming. Other times students may have a biological predisposition for it. Whatever the case, it is important that we all disregard the stigma associated with such difficulties one may be going through, and instead understand more about it in order to provide them with the support that they need.
If you think your friend may be suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, PH members suggest offering to accompany them to Cosy Haven or the Wellness Centre where they can get the help they need. However, below are some things you can do to show your support for them.
Be a friend: It seems absurd but sometimes a little friendship and just being there for them can provide some much needed support as well as show them that they aren’t alone.
Actively listen: According to PH, this is one of the primary techniques they use to not only build rapport, but understand clients more deeply. Active listening involves a myriad of smaller techniques but in essence, involves giving your full attention to your friend.
Non-judgement and willingness: Facilitating a safe environment where your friend doesn’t feel judged is key to allowing them to open up and discuss how they feel, ultimately benefiting them by providing an avenue for sharing. It is also crucial that the person be ready to discuss issues with you, so do not pressure them to share prematurely.
Action-plan: Ask the person if they are willing to see someone about the issues they are facing. If they are, fix a plan with them by putting it into action (e.g. booking a counselling session so that they are intrinsically motivated to carry through with it). It is common for them to raise up concerns so if they do, ask them if there is anything that you can do to put them at ease (e.g. offer to accompany them to the Cosy Haven if possible).
If you are currently suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, feel free to walk into Cosy Haven to talk to one of the PH duty officers, or alternatively make an appointment with the school counsellor. Both Cozy Haven and the Wellness Centre are located in SMU at the subtle corridor next to Frank OCBC. However, if you are in severe distress and in need of emergency help, contact one of the following helplines in the meantime:
Samaritans of Singapore (24-hour hotline): 1800-221-4444
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Care Corner Counselling Centre (in Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
Aware Helpline: 1800 777 5555
It is everyone’s responsibility to not only care for those around them, but also to tend to their own needs. Practicing mindfulness and good mental health practices not only improves your quality of life, but also safe-guards you from the crippling effects that arise from stress. Always remember: you aren’t alone, you can do this, and this too shall pass.