Speech by Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry, at the Facebook Live Panel: Building Mental Resilience In A Digital World
10 October 2020
Thank you everyone for joining us today. It is an important day, it is World Mental Health Day. As Anita mentioned, the whole purpose of this is for us to raise awareness and to mobilise action, by understanding the very critical issue of mental health, which is an important part of overall health.
I wanted to help paint a picture in a couple of different sections.
First, let us go back to the past and recognise that mental health is not a recent phenomenon. It has been there from time immemorial. If you look at just the last 100 years, and we go back to the great depression, which is very apt description of what we are now facing in COVID times.
Our people then, our forefathers and grandmothers, lived through the great depression. In Singapore they survived and had considerable mental stressors I’m sure, during the Japanese occupation in World War II, then through the British withdrawal and through Singapore’s struggle to independence, and then in the later years through multiple recessions and even SARS.
In every of these areas or moments of time in history, there have been considerable stressors on one’s mental and physical well-being, in addition to the normal ebbs and flows of daily life.
That is in the past, in a separate time right now compared to the present. What has changed since our forefathers and others have experience all of these different stressors?
I think what changed in the last 15 to 20 years, has to be the acceleration of tech. This is why we are talking about mental resilience in a digital world.
There are downsides and upsides to tech. I spent a considerable time in the tech companies including Facebook and Instagram, dealing and grappling with these issues. I will start with the downsides and then move on to the upsides.
The downsides, as all of us are familiar with right now, is that our lives have been super-charged and accelerated with COVID-19. But online, we are expected to do more with a finite amount of time, and there are demands on our mental well-being.
Social media has also changed the landscape of how we interact with one another. Many of us are on socials. Like it or not, we compare ourselves with other people, their Insta-stories or Insta-holidays for example.
We read comments that either edify us or discourage us. We have seen instances of our friends being cyber-bullied. We have seen instances of cyber safety issues and of course online suicide, something that I dealt with at Facebook.
These anxieties have been heightened because of COVID-19. Many of us are working from home, and our children are doing home-based learning. We are facing a lot of stressors in terms of jobs and health, not unlike folks in the early great depression years in the 1920s.
But there are also many upsides on the digital sphere, because we are using platforms to connect with one another, to support one another, to express our feelings, to get informed of new information about a rapidly evolving and elusive virus, to enable us to do many different things with what we have in the physical world, and to also create jobs and opportunities as we have seen.
What has changed in the past compared to the present, is this technology and digital era, which is rather obvious. What then can we do? I want to go through really quick 4 areas.
The first, individuals. I think as Anita mentioned, one is self-care, where we need to look after ourselves in a digital age.
The first thing is, after this webinar, please go out, please find time to disconnect, please don’t read the comments, please unfollow those who you think do not give you much encouragement or take a toll on your mental well-being.
Post edifying content, and occasionally when you need to, ask for help, because I certainly do as well. Not just self-care, be others centric as well; care for others, be vulnerable, and build community.
This comes to my point on community, and what the community can do. Earlier this morning I was at a People’s Association seminar and we were doing a hackathon about what we can do better to outreach to folks online and offline.
Get out there, help folks who are financially vulnerable, emotionally vulnerable and socially vulnerable. I know Anita you worked with Magic Bus in the past. That is something I also work with at Jalan Kukoh. These are examples, socio-emotional learning with our kids and in our communities.
In the community, be kind and don’t judge as well!
The third area is on companies. Companies like Facebook and Instagram can do a lot as well. They are already doing many different things, and there are other things they can do such as refining algorithms, making sure that the content is safe.
What Amber is doing, very importantly, is making sure Facebook, Instagram and other platforms are a safe place to share. I think the reporting, content policy and community standards are interactive, and I know you are working very hard on those fronts. You are also providing resources to people who need them.
I know Facebook, Instagram and others are also building and developing partnerships with, for example MCCY and NYC, on the COVID-19 resource center. Of course, we are also partnering the #heartbits outreach today.
Finally, and I will talk more about this during the panel, Government has an important part to play. We are doing so on multiple areas and platforms.
The first, for example, on the NCSS, National Council for Social Services, there is the “Beyond The Label” initiative to raise awareness of mental well-being. When I was at Facebook, we worked with the Media Literacy Council to promote online safety.
MOE, MOH and MSF are supporting the Youth Mental Well-being Network, where we already have 1000 members. Feel free to join, I will put this on the chat.
At workplaces, we are working with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) to ensure that there is fair hiring, that does not take into account, if unnecessary, mental health issues.
In the schools, we are developing character curriculum to do two things; to help people be more aware of mental well-being, but also be more empathetic to people who exhibit signs of mental stress.
In summary, we have looked in the past, we have looked at how things are a bit different now in the present with technology. I really want to ensure that we recognise that every facet of society, individuals, community, companies, as well as Government, all have a part to play in the mental well-being space.
I am looking forward to the conversation later. Anita over to you.