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Parents worried about stigma over mental health may be obstacle to youth seeking help: Forum panellists

SINGAPORE — Parents worried about the stigma associated with mental health conditions can present an obstacle to youth seeking help for these challenges, panellists said at a forum on the topic on Friday (May 20).

Parents worried about stigma over mental health may be obstacle to youth seeking help: Forum panellists
  • Ms Sun Xueling said that tackling mental health must start at home and at school
  • The minister of state was speaking at a panel as part of the Temasek Shophouse Conversations event
  • Among the topics that panellists discussed was the stigma that youth face when seeking help
  • Speakers also talked about how parents can be barriers for the young who may wish to get mental health care

SINGAPORE — Parents worried about the stigma associated with mental health conditions can present an obstacle to youth seeking help for these challenges, panellists said at a forum on the topic on Friday (May 20).

Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development, for instance, said that tackling mental health must start at home and other "upstream" areas of a young person's life such as schools, noting the important roles that both parents and schools play in this aspect.

“Because indeed, by the time we try to address (the challenges youth face) as a mental health or mental well-being issue, we're already downstream, when we should be looking at upstream preventive measures.”

Ms Sun, who was speaking at the Temasek Shophouse Conversations event, added that studies have shown that the well-being of a child is contingent on the relationship the child has with parents, teachers as well as peers.

Friday's event, which discussed mental health support for youth, took place both virtually and in person, and was attended by more than 600 participants from the public, private and community sectors.

Organised by Temasek Foundation — the philanthropic arm of state investor Temasek Holdings — in partnership with KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and peer support network Campus Psy, the forum aimed to foster discourse on young people's mental health and explore ways to improve support and access to interventions.

In his keynote speech at the event, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that these unprecedented times have resulted in a global surge in mental health challenges for the young, adding that data have shown a “disturbing trend”.

For example, data from the National Youth Council last year showed that more than 40 per cent of young people who did not struggle before the pandemic reported that their mental well-being had worsened.

Mr Tan also cited a study published last year by the University of Calgary in Canada, which found that depressive and anxiety symptoms have doubled in children and adolescents globally when compared to pre-pandemic estimates.

Highlighting national efforts that have gone into tackling mental health challenges here, Mr Tan said that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is looking into “significantly committing resources” to create safe and welcoming workplaces where workers may give their best without the fear of harassment, being stigmatised or ostracised.

Mr Tan did not elaborate on exactly how much resources MOM will commit.

Ms Sun, who also spoke about the work of a government task force set up last year to oversee national efforts to promote mental health and well-being, said that the task force was formed by several agencies because it recognises that mental health is not just a medical issue and that it should not be just considering medicalised solutions.

STIGMA CAN BE SYSTEMIC

Among the issues raised at the event were how the reliance on technology has fuelled concerns among parents, educators, governments and young people themselves and that such technologies and social media are exacerbating feelings of anxiety and depression. This is contributing to mental health problems among youth. 

In a discussion on the state of young people's mental health and their challenges in getting help, panellists touched on the stigma that this group faces.

So now, perhaps, instead of seeking to de-stigmatise an issue, which implies an act of really undoing something that might be wrong... maybe we should think about how we can seek to normalise conversations around mental health.
Dr Priyanka Rajendram, assistant director of integrated health promotion at the Ministry of Health’s office for healthcare transformation

Dr Priyanka Rajendram, assistant director of integrated health promotion at the Ministry of Health’s office for healthcare transformation, said that there are various forms of stigma, one of them being systemic. 

She gave the example of how Singapore has one of the lowest rates of psychiatrists for every 100,000 residents in the world. Other forms include public stigma, where mental illness is often associated with a lot of shame and loss of faith. 

“So now, perhaps, instead of seeking to de-stigmatise an issue, which implies an act of really undoing something that might be wrong, which is always harder, maybe we should think about how we can seek to normalise conversations around mental health, which implies an act of creation that is more hopeful and more positive,” Dr Rajendram said.

Fellow panellist, Associate Professor John Wong, said that mental health literacy must also be raised not only among young persons but the population at large, in particular parents, on whom the young are still very much dependent.

Assoc Prof Wong, a senior consultant psychiatrist from the department of psychological medicine at the National University of Singapore and National University Hospital, noted an increase in the number of young people, especially secondary school students, asking for a professional assessment of their mental health.

Yet, some parents do not share the same level of literacy on the issue, he added.

Speakers on a separate panel also talked about how parents can be barriers for youth to access mental health care. 

Noting that young people may or may not be comfortable with their parents knowing about their mental health challenges, Ms Sun said that the task force is looking at how confidentiality can be ensured for both students and parents when the student seeks help from school counsellors.

This is especially since the mental health needs of youth vary.

In the case where a medical intervention needs to be initiated, such as when the child is at risk of self-harm, Ms Sun said that there needs to be a consensus that the parent’s consent should be sought. 

On the other hand, when the young person needs just a listening ear, she questioned the need to seek consent from a parent. 

“So I think one question we ask ourselves is: Do we look at the degree or the severity of the mental health condition? In other words, does it need to be a one-size-fits-all approach, that all situations require the parents to be involved?

“And I think a question that we will have to ask and the task force needs to think about is under what circumstances does the consent of a parent need to be explicitly sought when it comes to intervention.''

Ms Sun also said that there may be parents who feel that there is a stigma around mental health and who might say, "There is no issue at all, let's not talk about this. And by the way, I may be concerned that this will end up as a black mark on my child's records so I do not wish to have further intervention".

Related topics

mental health Youth Parents schools government stigma

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