Championing the mental well-being of youths

Since its launch in February this year, the Youth Mental Well-being (YMWB) Network has grown to over 1,000 members. Members like Ms Wendy Tan have kept the exchange of ideas going, bringing new members into the fold over online meetings amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ms Wendy Tan (2nd row, middle) with Young NTUC youth leaders, February 2020

The Network harnesses the energy and experience of the diverse group of members to put in place more initiatives to better support and enhance youth mental well-being. Besides youths, professionals, parents and practitioners in mental health are also part of the Network.

The Network is evolving and organic, as intended by Minister Desmond Lee when he issued an open call for people to register their interest this year. This allows anyone who is interested in improving the mental health of young people to contribute, share areas of interest, kickstart discussions and take ownership of projects.

It is also one of the Singapore Together Action Networks, which aim to bring Singaporeans together to work on key societal issues.

“What’s beautiful about the network,” as Wendy says, “is that it’s not a top-down initiative.”  

Network members are not hampered by any fixed parameters to effect change. “Rather, it relies on everyday people to stand up, make a difference and be part of actionable initiatives,” she says. “Members are encouraged to suggest and take ownership of projects they propose, with the support of MSF.”

Members of this Network have identified a few phases in a youth’s life they want to focus on — when they are in school, transitioning into the workplace, when they are at work and when they become young parents.

More than 40 Youth Mental Well-being Network members came together in a recent dialogue

More recently in June 2020, Wendy and several members joined Minister Desmond Lee in an online conference call to discuss areas of opportunity in meeting the needs of these youths at different points in their lives. Among the ideas shared was integrating good mental well-being practices into the workplace.

Network members felt that more companies need to support young employees who are suffering from mental health conditions, and to implement progressive workplace practices to help them cope.

For example, having a system where caring for one’s mental well-being is seen as a priority in employee welfare rather than a reaction, and engaging trained colleagues as first responders to those in need.

While mental wellness programmes exist in some workplaces, the Network members observed that many Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) have yet to implement them.

“SMEs employ 70% of our workforce, so mental wellness has to be prioritised by managers and Human Resource (HR) partners,” Wendy says. “Companies are always talking about profit and higher productivity, but good ones need to consider the mental well-being of employees too.”

The Network hopes to engage more SMEs and persuade them to view employee mental health as integral to workplace success. Towards this end, the Network has also included several SME partners and HR managers in its fold, and they have thus far been positive in their response, says Wendy.

Wendy hails from the Youth Development Unit at the National Trade Union Congress (Young NTUC). Part of her interest in mental health among working adults stems from her own experience interacting with youths at work.

“Many graduates have spoken about the stress and difficulty of finding a job during the COVID-19 period,” she says, adding that they will need more support.

While the Network is still in its infancy, the online meet-ups have seen individuals from all walks of life sharing a range of experiences and suggestions. Wendy says she is humbled, after hearing some members share their personal stories with mental illness.

“Some have loved ones fighting mental issues, or even lost loved ones because of them,” she says. “Despite their pain, they decided to come forward to share their stories and offer their time.” 

Emphasising the ground-up nature of the Network, she says that prior work experience in youth mental health is not necessary for participation. “All one needs is a keen interest in this area and a passion to drive change.”

If you are passionate about promoting youth mental well-being in Singapore and are eager to contribute like Wendy, sign up at http://www.reach.gov.sg/youth-mental-well-being.