Petir Explains: We need to talk about mental health action for S’pore’s youths


WE NEED to talk about mental health for Singapore’s youths. Especially since mental health remains an uncomfortable subject socially.  

For example, exactly how many of us are willing to tell our teachers or managers that right now, things just are not working out so well, head-wise?  

Not that many, it turns out. Just last November, over half of Singaporeans surveyed for the Asian Mental Health Index said they would tell neither their employers nor their loved ones; social stigmatisation remains a sticking point.    

This is despite one in four young Singaporeans facing mental health challenges in 2022, versus one in five during 2020, as our MP Wan Rizal (Jalan Besar GRC) mentioned in his Advancing Mental Health Motion this past February. 

Public opinion specialist Ipsos recently found that nearly half (46 per cent) of Singaporeans see mental health as the biggest health problem facing the country. Stress, relatedly, was the third-biggest (26 per cent). 

So, there are fellow young Singaporeans out there who are in difficult and self-reinforcing straits when it comes to even simply talking about mental health: There’s a problem, it’s not being admitted to, and this problem is getting worse because people are suffering in silence.  

PAP MPs are leading the call for improving young Singaporeans’ mental health

The disamenities of poor mental health are many. Moods get affected, most obviously. Think feeling depressed over one’s current situation, or lashing out in rage at other people.  

But there are more subtle mental effects. Such as being unable to concentrate, or just feeling burnt out at school and work tasks — or at life overall. 

Then there are the physical symptoms: the headaches and tiredness which come with depression, the changes in appetite and weight which accompany eating disorders, and a weakened immune system from compounded stress.      

Additionally, just like the cough or a particularly insidious virus, the ebbs and flows of one’s mental health affect loved ones as well. Take it from MP Wan Rizal’s personal story. 

“It is a ripple effect — when an individual struggles with mental health issues, those around them, their loved ones often bear a significant emotional and physical burden. For example, I recently shared with the media a phase when my wife went through post-natal depression. It was slightly prolonged and it was not easy for me to see my better half struggling; so too were the kids. It was difficult for me to see my kids having to put a strong front in front of their mother. I was often worried how it might affect them,” he said during the Motion.

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Source: Wan Rizal/ Facebook, Nazhath Faheema / Facebook

His fellow PAP MP Edward Chia (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) spoke too when co-proposing the Advancing Mental Health Motion. He called for better mental health support in the workplace. 

“I call on the Government to partner up with our TACs [Trade Association Chambers] to implement industry-based mental health frameworks and offer funding through productivity solutions grants schemes. This will better support TACs in customising the organisation framework for their members and adopting mental health tech solutions,” said MP Chia, 

It was a timely call. Just think of the amount of time young Singaporeans spend at school or at work each day, and how many stressors there might be afterwards — and with not enough time to solve them satisfactorily although they affect physical health too. 

Accessible, affordable mental health help

What’s being done to help young Singaporeans get through these probably underreported and definitely difficult emotions?  

Plenty, it turns out. 

“We are redoubling our efforts to better understand the issues that young people face — something that many members spoke about. It has never been easy to be a teenager,” said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong. 

These efforts include Government Ministries doing hands-on research and linking up with researchers from across the world to find out what’s behind this recent surge in youth mental health issues.


We are working together to better support your mental health and well-being needs. Here’s how. #mentalhealth

♬ original sound – Lawrence Wong – Lawrence Wong

Source: Lawrence Wong / TikTok 

There will also be 30 percent more psychiatrists (for 260) and psychologists (that’s 300) in the public sector by 2030. Additional mental health services are coming to all polyclinics and another 900 general practitioner (GP) clinics. 

This treatment will be affordable. The national framework of Medisave, MediShield and Medifund will together make sure that young Singaporeans get the mental health help they need. In Singapore, no one is ever turned away from receiving medical help because they cannot afford it; it will be no different for mental health issues. 

Peer networks are key 

Plus, what’s most promising is that the Government will help community peer support groups ramp up. 

This sort of peer support works. On-the-ground research from the major medical journal BioMed Central Psychiatry finds that “the available evidence suggests that peer work is a safe, effective, flexible and cost-effective intervention for adults, which promotes hope, empowerment, patient activation and self-efficacy, and reduces hospitalisations.” Concurrent international research from another medical journal, Psychiatric Services, said “the effect on personal recovery from mental illness was most evident in peer support added to hospital services.”  

In other words, this peer support prevents mental health problems from metastasising. Particularly against the backdrop of a formal health system. 

So, the Government augmenting peer networks — which are for everyday places like schools, institutions of higher learning, workplaces and the army — and simultaneously equipping teachers with basic counselling skills are together first responses which help people look out for fellow young Singaporeans. Especially if these young Singaporeans are not speaking up. Peer networks are not scary places and do not have the (misplaced) stigma of a ward or a doctor’s office.  

There are two-way benefits as well. These acts of mental health help do have a wonderful way of coming back to the peers giving them. Peers can apply the techniques they teach into their own lives. In the best-case scenario, the people whom they previously helped can stand by them too. 

These are conditions for societal change on a vital level. As DPM Wong said when supporting the motion, “we can do much more to build a society where we help one another cope with life’s stressors, and are considerate of others’ feelings, and carve out safe spaces for them”. 

Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore / YouTube  

Look, then, for young Singaporeans not having to suffer alone in the proverbial bell jar when facing mental health issues. Look to Government efforts towards a much more inclusive and resilient society, where Singaporeans will thrive going forward. And everyone can play a part.