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Not all of us are fortunate to have people in our lives we can share our struggles with. I know, because I was one of those lonely people.

We often have to deal with invalidation from the most unexpected sources, whether it is from friends or family. This comes in many forms – feeling like we’re being judged, being told to “just get over it”, or receiving unsolicited advice – and it’s a struggle to be heard and understood at times.

Since young, I have struggled with depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. And it can really make a person feel alone and isolated. I’ve known this feeling for most of my life. Since no one seems to understand you, you end up keeping it all in and suffering on your own.

Thankfully, I found help. And it turned my life around. But it didn’t come without a personal journey rife with ups and downs and struggles. Transforming this past pain into purpose, I eventually became a psychologist and I hope to help others along in their journey too.

In our society, there is a gap in mental health accessibility and affordability for many. Also, many fear seeking help from public institutions due to stigmatisation of mental wellness issues.

That’s why I brought together a team of like-minded mental health advocates last September to start itallstartshear.sg, or IASH.sg in short.

, Need a listening ear but don’t know where to get it? It all starts hear!
Image source: IASH.SG

We have a group of trained supporters whom we call Hear Buds, short for Hearing Buddies. They are a mix of volunteers who have undergone empathy training or who have a background in counselling.

The types of callers who reach out to us fall into three main categories.

First, people who are not sure that therapy is appropriate for the issues they are facing. For example, they could have gone through a recent breakup, or are feeling lost in life, or having anxiety in their work or studies, or are simply feeling isolated and lonely.

Second, there are also callers who are going through therapy, but because of the low frequency of sessions, require support in-between.

Finally, IASH.sg also supports people who are afraid of the stigma of seeking professional treatment, or those who have done so and didn’t find it suitable for them.

Empathy is key

, Need a listening ear but don’t know where to get it? It all starts hear!
Image source: IASH.SG

What makes these Hear Buds special is that they have all experienced different types of mental health challenges themselves.

Pam, a volunteer Hear Bud, understands how it is to go through a burnout.

“I used to be a professional in the tech & IT industry but after going through a burnout last year I decided to leave the corporate world to focus on self care and self development. Being fortunate enough to have received support when I most needed it, I have made it my personal mission to pay it forward by hosting space and being an empathetic listener for those who are struggling.”

In fact, all Hear Buds have “walked the talk” themselves. You can read about their personal life struggles on IASH.sg and choose the Hear Bud whose stories resonate the most.

, Need a listening ear but don’t know where to get it? It all starts hear!
Image source: IASH.SG

For example, Edmund, IASH.sg’s Head of Sustainability, is also one of the counsellors on the platform.

He says: “I was a caregiver for my late wife and, upon her passing, a survivor of grief. Both caregiver stress and grief is an area that’s close to my heart because of my personal journey and the lessons I learnt along the way. I have come to find my involvement in the mental wellness space my calling and the opportunity to offer a helping hand for those in need, a privilege.”

Easy to set up

It just takes a few clicks of a button to arrange for a 1-on-1 private Zoom session.
IASH.sg uses a booking system integrated with Zoom. Users can book any number of free sessions to speak to a trained listener and supporter via video, voice or a text chatting function. Each session lasts from 40 minutes to an hour.

To ensure our Hear Buds host a non-judgmental, empathetic and supportive space, we collect feedback from callers after every call to keep us on track. It seems that it’s so far so good! If anything, the feedback has been very positive.

Despite being only six months old we have seen a steady increase in the number of calls from week to week. Currently, we get more than 60 calls a month and we’re definitely aiming higher!

, Need a listening ear but don’t know where to get it? It all starts hear!
Image source: IASH.SG

Since November, we’ve also started offering free sessions in partnership with counselling schools too.

It’s a win-win situation, as we match provisional counsellors from schools like the College of Allied Educators who are fulfilling their practicum hours with Singaporeans who are looking for a free alternative to counselling.

Since work plays such a pivotal role in mental wellbeing, IASH.sg has also rolled out a companion “Career Guides” pillar.

These comprise a range of ex-CEOs, leaders, and entrepreneurs who have committed to be an informal career mentor.

, Need a listening ear but don’t know where to get it? It all starts hear!
Image source: IASH.SG

Eustace, who is a senior HR executive, volunteers several hours a week to listen to people.

“I’ve been blessed with a wonderful career over the past 30 years working for great organisations and in fulfilling roles.

When I was approached to support this initiative, it was a very easy YES. Many of us have periods of challenges as we navigate through complexities in the work environment. As a career guide, I am happy to support with a listening ear and share my perspectives.”

Creating an online mental health community

We also understand that not everyone would have heard of us, which is why we try to share our messages on social media like Facebook and Instagram.

As Felicia, our social media manager often says, social media can sometimes trigger feelings of emptiness, anxiety, or project unrealistic ideals. However, she hopes that our social media platform can act as a safe space for those who are struggling, for them to feel heard and understood, or simply just to brighten up their day!

Another way that we hope to effect change is by building an open, accepting online space for Singaporeans to talk about their mental health struggles and find peer support online.

Which is why we have set up a Discord server called Come Hear.SG , which hosts monthly games, book clubs as well as peer support groups for people with various mental health conditions.

, Need a listening ear but don’t know where to get it? It all starts hear!
Image source: IASH.SG

Creating content that destigmatises talking about mental health

In an effort to normalise mental health, we have also launched a video and podcast series called the Labelled Life to explore how the stigma of mental illness labels affects the lives of ordinary Singaporeans.

We hope to show that people experiencing mental health challenges are very much ordinary people like you or me.

Our head of content Hakim believes that the best way to change the way people think and behave is through the sharing of real stories on mental health, the impact of stigma, and kinds of discrimination people living with labels face.

The Labelled Life is available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

What’s in store next?

To all of you who are struggling alone, speak to one of our Hear Buds. You only need to share a nickname and email (to send you a Zoom link). This safe space was created specifically for you. Suffering is often invisible.

In a world where you can be anything, let’s be kind.

Whether you’re an organisation looking to tap on our resources, or a person who would like to reach out for help without any fear of judgement, we’ll be hear, I mean… here. Let’s talk ok?

Ang Hern Ping is the founder of IASH.sg

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Top Image: Image Source: IASH.SG