Support for youths who turn to unhealthy coping habits during the COVID-19 pandemic
Response to parliamentary question on the number of youths who are receiving professional help, and an assessment on the existing efforts to support youths with unhealthy coping habits.
11 January 2022
COVID-19 has led to more challenges and stressors for youths. These have impacted their mental health and well-being. According to our National Youth Council’s (NYC) polls conducted from February to October 2021, 1 in 5 youths reported poor or very poor mental well-being. The youths in the survey indicated that they were stressed about the COVID-19 situation and uncertain about their future. They continue to also be concerned about more enduring issues such as their studies, and work-life balance for working youths.
We note that the findings from a survey conducted by TODAY showed that our youths are adopting a range of coping mechanisms during the pandemic. Miss Cheng referred to coping habits such as social media scrolling, excessive drinking and shopping. However, the findings show that the majority of youth respondents chose healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercising (53%), talking to loved ones (52%), starting a new hobby (40%) and being in nature and outdoors (36%).
The same TODAY survey indicated that the majority of youths are willing to seek professional help - about 66% of the respondents. This is encouraging, and consistent with NYC’s findings. Such help-seeking behaviour is reassuring, so that our youths can receive help in a timely manner.
Our youths can seek professional help from multiple avenues and have various options to suit their needs and situations. They can do so through healthcare institutions, services provided by community organisations, or community peer support.
First, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) runs a National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) clinic to provide treatment for individuals, including youths, who face habit or impulse control and various addictions issues. This clinic saw about 290 and 230 patients, aged between 13 and 34, in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Second, the Government also works closely with community partners to provide a range of professional services for youths to strengthen their mental health and well-being. Let me share some examples.
The Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT) set up by IMH conducts outreach and mental health assessments for youths between 16 and 30 years old. It also has a WebCHAT service for youths to seek help about mental health issues and conditions online.
In the community, there are Social Service Agencies (SSAs) that engage and develop youths through a range of healthy activities such as sports, performing arts and adventure activities. SSAs also provide a safe and conducive space via their drop-in centres to meaningfully engage youths through centre-based activities.Programmes such as The Grit Academy by Lakeside Family Services, and the Experiential Learning and Mentoring Programme by Youth Guidance Outreach Services have continued to provide support to youths during the pandemic. Youth workers are also present to befriend these youths and mentor them.
There are online counselling services for youths. These include eC2 by Fei Yue Community Services and e-counselling services by Limitless. Family Service Centres (FSCs) also serve as a key community touchpoint to provide case management services for youths with personal or family issues, including emotional needs.
Where necessary, FSCs will refer youths to specialised services for concurrent support. The DigitalMINDSET programme provided by TOUCH Community Services is one example of such specialised services. This is a nine-month programme for youths aged 12-21 who have developed mental health issues from excessive gaming and device use.
Third, School Counsellors are trained by NAMS to support students with addiction issues, and work with community partners to increase outreach to help our youths to develop healthy online habits.
Finally, there are also those who partner Government to provide social and community support for youths.
To enable youths to seek support from fellow peers, Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) launched Project Re:ground, a Community Peer Supporter Programme in collaboration with the Health Promotion Board (HPB).
Through activities organised by YCS and People’s Association (PA) Youth Networks, youths can come together to contribute meaningfully to their communities, and foster a healthy social and community-oriented spirit at the same time.
We are also moving upstream, through the Mentoring Alliance for Action (AfA) co-led by NYC and the Mentoring Alliance Singapore Limited (MASg). The AfA is expanding mentoring opportunities for youths so that more can benefit from support and guidance in order to navigate life’s challenges constructively.
The Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being, chaired by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Health is helping to pull many of these initiatives together at the national level. The Taskforce is working with government and community groups to coordinate efforts on mental health and well-being.
Our youths are our future, and our Government and partners in society are doing all we can to build an eco-system that can safeguard and strengthen our youths’ mental well-being and resilience. We are doing this so our youths can overcome the challenges of this pandemic, thrive beyond the pandemic and in turn, contribute to building the future of our society, community and nation.