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HomesingaporeTODAY Youth Survey: Over 3 in 10 report fragile mental health; those...

TODAY Youth Survey: Over 3 in 10 report fragile mental health; those with more support from friends, loved ones fare better

SINGAPORE — With just two months left before starting her first full-time job as an auditor in one of the big four accounting firms, thoughts of not being good enough have been weighing on Sarah’s mind.

The survey also found that people without sources of support struggled the most, with one-third of such respondents rating their mental health as “not well” or “not very well”.

On the flipside, the typical respondent who rated their mental health as “well” or “very well” had more than two sources of support on average.

WHAT IS STRESSING OUT THE YOUNG?

Young people who spoke to TODAY indicated that there were several stressors common among those who were just embarking on adulthood, such as coming to grips with the realities of working life, new parenthood and identity issues.

Mr Farhan Iqbal, 24, said that even though deadlines are a small source of stress at work, he finds it tough to deal with managers sometimes.

The inventory technician, who started working five months ago, said: “The biggest contributor to my stress is when upper management gives poor directives, since there isn’t much that can be done but to deal with it.” 

The rising cost of living has also affected his mental health, he said, especially when he compares food prices. For example, his usual plain prata and egg prata order at his nearby food court now costs about S$5, up from S$3.30 late last year.

“It’s not an active stressor, but… I can’t help but worry, too, about how I can afford basic things like food in the future.” 

Despite these challenges, he said that he would rate his current mental health as being good, because he has sought therapy and is taking other steps to release his stress, such as frequently visiting the gym.

For 28-year-old Mandy Chng, she worries about her future for a different reason — she identifies as a lesbian and, because she has faced discrimination at work before, she constantly worries that she will have to deal with that again for future jobs. 

“In 2021, when I was working for a multinational corporation, I faced a lot of bullying for my sexual orientation… I was often the butt of jokes,” the consultant said. She has since left the company and now works in the social services sector where her current manager and colleagues are accepting and inclusive.

“It’s not just work. There are anxieties that come with not knowing what my future entails since there are things that my partner and I cannot have (such as getting married),” she said, adding that she tries not to think “too far ahead”. 

Even among those who seem to have it all, stress abounds. Civil servant Choo Xinrong is a first-time mother of a three-month-old who said that new parenthood has weighed heavily on her.

She recalled that her mental health was not very well when her son was first born, and she spent up to 14 hours a day just caring for him.

“Having to be a mother as well as someone who contributes financially and does all the household chores — there are plenty of things to juggle,” the 29-year-old said.

KEY TO HAVE STRONG SOURCES OF SUPPORT

Ms Choo said that she is doing much better now that she cares for her son two to three hours a day, having gotten childcare and support.

Being able to cope with the stress of running a household as well as caring for an infant has only been manageable thanks to the support of her family and friends, especially her husband.

“He’s there to help with my son’s needs when I’m not free. And emotionally, he understands me the most, so it’s easier to talk to him about my worries,” she said.

Data from the TODAY Youth Survey 2022 showed that the main sources of mental health support for youth are:

Spouses or romantic partners (24 per cent)Friends (22 per cent)Parents (19 per cent)Siblings (8 per cent)Professionals such as therapists or counsellors (5 per cent)

Ms Chng, who came out as a lesbian when she was 15, can attest to the importance of having support in helping one through the darkest times.

When she was struggling as a teenager, she chanced upon Young Out Here, a community group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth, which she found to be a safe space where she could express herself freely and be validated.

“It’s corny, but if it wasn’t for the group, I might have given up on life as there was no one I could talk to or no safe space where I could explore my identity. It connected me with other youth and I realised that I wasn’t alone.”

Looking back, Ms Chng said that she is glad she sought out a community when she was at that low point.

“When I was younger, I didn’t see myself living past the age of 18 because I couldn’t be myself and had no one to talk to about accepting my identity,” she said.

“Now at 28, I know my younger self would be shocked. I have a career, a loving partner and people who support me by my side.”

JUST BE THERE AS A LISTENER 

Experts who spoke to TODAY said that very often, people cannot manage their anxiety and stress on their own and so, developing good social and familial connections is key to strong mental health.

Mr John Lim, the chief well-being officer at the Singapore Counselling Centre, said that the centre has seen an increasing number of youth seeking help regarding their mental health struggles since 2020.

He said, however, that there are some people who may not want to confide in friends or family. 

This is because they fear being judged or burdening their closed ones.

In such cases, it would be helpful to see a professional mental health counsellor, he advised.

Dr Praveen Nair, a psychologist and senior consultant at Raven Counselling, said a common mistake that people make when trying to support their peers is to give generalised platitudes without understanding their specific struggle, or on how mental health conditions can be treated.

“A lack of awareness, which leads someone to say, ‘This is life, just suck it up’ — these kinds of statements may actually hurt instead of help,” he said.

“Most of us expect action to be the answer but sometimes, just being there listening to someone can be greatly beneficial as well,” he added.

Look out for more reports on the TODAY Youth Survey 2022 on Nov 4. We will also be holding hybrid webinars on Nov 14 and 15 to discuss the survey findings. More details here.  

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