Friday soapbox: Dear Singaporeans, it is okay not to be okay


Since it’s the season of giving, we decided that it’s an opportune time to give thanks to our readers and, most importantly, share the importance of giving oneself a break.

Yes, it is okay not to be okay.

We are almost two years into the pandemic and while the government has successfully geared us up for endemicity, the emergence of the Omicron variant threw the proverbial spanner into the works. Although research is not conclusive, the Ministry of Health has begun ramping up the number of ICU beds to cope with the potential Omicron wave: a bright spark amidst the uncertainty.

That said, Covid-19, endemic or not, has caused mental health issues to spike. An Institute of Mental Health study showed the likely increase in mental health issues in Singapore, with about 13 per cent of over 1,000 participants reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is just for the general population. Things are trickier for our young Singaporeans.

They are caught in a web of school work, peer pressure, excelling in school, acne outbreaks, body image, hormonal changes, romantic relationships, overall identity and so on.

Some of these pressures like excelling in school can be self-imposed or family-imposed.

Throw in social media with a backdrop of a highly competitive society and the web gets more convoluted.

While digital technology, and by extension social media, has empowered the youths to organise themselves to better their living environment, it has also brought about tremendous feelings of anxiety, having to cope with self-image on social media and cyberbullying, which inadvertently caused self-esteem problems.

And all these while the world is trying to cope with the uncertainties caused by Covid-19.

Heck, it is tough to grow up in such an era.

Thankfully, there’s help.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing announced earlier this month that mental health lessons will be progressively rolled out from primary to pre-university levels over the next two years.

Following from his Ministerial Statement after the unfortunate River Valley High incident, he also shared that since September this year, all schools have dedicated time and space at the start of every term for teachers to check in on our students’ well-being.

Teachers have also been provided with practical pedagogical resources and tools to monitor and support students’ well-being and all schools have a peer support structure in place and are seeking to empower their students to make an impact on the school community.

While we are glad that these systems are in place, we must remember what Minister Chan said in his Ministerial Statement: we need a whole-of-society approach to tackle mental health issues.

“We need a communal safety net, underpinned by a caring and nurturing culture, for all our people, especially our youths. So that collectively, we send them the unequivocal message that no one will ever be alone; and no one needs to be going through life’s toughest moments alone.”

The government has put in place the structure, it is up to us to build on this structure with love and a caring heart.

And we must remember this: It is okay to seek help, it is okay to talk about mental health problems, it is okay to cry.

It is okay not to be okay.

Cover photo credit: Ryan Stone on Unsplash