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National study on emotional resilience, mental health of youths to begin in April

SINGAPORE — In April, the National University of Singapore (NUS) will embark on the first national study that aims to estimate the prevalence of mental health conditions in youths aged 10 to 18, as well as gauge their emotional resilience.

A national study involving 12,000 youths aged 10 to 18, as well as some of their parents, will be done this year to suss out the prevalence of mental conditions among young people here.

A national study involving 12,000 youths aged 10 to 18, as well as some of their parents, will be done this year to suss out the prevalence of mental conditions among young people here.

Singapore

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SINGAPORE — In April, the National University of Singapore (NUS) will embark on the first national study that aims to estimate the prevalence of mental health conditions in youths aged 10 to 18, as well as gauge their emotional resilience.

The Singapore Youth Epidemiology and Resilience (Year) Study, done in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the Institute of Mental Health, will reach out to 12,000 youths, to get a representative sample across gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status.

Speaking to reporters on Monday (Jan 21) on the sidelines of the NUS International Academic Psychiatry Conference, Associate Professor John Wong, the study’s principal investigator, said that there is a “data gap” here on the prevalence of mental health conditions for those aged 18 and younger.

Assoc Prof Wong, who heads the department of psychological medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, added that the study could shed light on the prevalence of conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression, which could help agencies plan service capacity going ahead. 

Researchers will also look into the participants' social media activity, such as levels of use, perceived stress in academic learning, as well as how parenting styles affect their growing-up years, he said.

Identity development, which is tied to a host of emotional issues, will be examined. The team will map whether there is “continuity or discontinuity” as young people develop an identity, and whether the result is a “congruent” identity that they are comfortable with.

This is key, because identities will shape their personalities into adulthood and weigh on how they adapt to societal demands and stressors, said Assoc Prof Wong.

Youngsters between 10 and 18 are moving through adolescence and negotiating puberty — and advancing through different learning environments from primary schools to tertiary institutions can be “so significant that it will impact on their trajectory”, he said.

The study will help various government ministries profile and document mental health problems that could affect the young, said Assoc Prof Wong, who is also a senior consultant psychiatrist at the National University Hospital.

The data could help the agencies to deal with emerging trends and challenges as well.

YOUTHS AND PARENTS WILL BE INTERVIEWED

A number of schools across levels, zones and types will be involved in the study. Of the 12,000 randomly picked students, the study’s team is aiming for a 33 per cent consent rate, or about 4,000 youths, who will be screened via a self-reporting questionnaire.

Those who record a score that may suggest mental issues of concern will be invited for the second phase of the study from June this year. This will comprise interviews with the youth and one parent.

The youths and parents will be interviewed separately, said Assoc Prof Wong.

Researchers have found from experience that some adolescents would avoid questions that cover their sexuality and personal lifestyle preferences if a parent is present.

“They would be surprisingly open to participate when confidentiality is built in,” said Assoc Prof Wong.

For quality assurance, 10 per cent of the youths who turn in a normal score will also undergo the interviews.

The S$1 million study is funded largely by the Singapore Totalisator Board, which operates lotteries and sports betting.

On the focus on resilience, Assoc Prof Wong said that the peak of 27 youth suicides in 2015 raised much concern and alarm among educators, parents and healthcare providers. “That was really a red flag. As clinicians, we see cases from students, schools, youths, children. There is significant concern,” he said.

While healthcare institutions care for the acutely and chronically sick, universities provide an alternative avenue to reach out to segments of the population who are at risk or even well but who could develop acute distress at some point.

The researchers’ findings will be released from mid-2021.

The NUS International Academic Psychiatry Conference — themed Resilience Across the Age Continuum and in its fifth edition this year — runs until Tuesday.

Experts and policymakers from different sectors discussed, among other things, how to build resilience in young men before they are conscripted into military service, and how schools can help high-ability students stand the test of preparing, undergoing and accepting the outcomes of competitions such as mathematics and science Olympiads.

Resilience, ultimately, is “unique to different phases of life, the context, and to the (segment of) the population who may be more at risk”, said Assoc Prof Wong.

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