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Even though more people are talking about mental health, as a Gen Zer, I still find it awkward to talk about it with anyone who aren’t my closest friends.
I mean, how do we even begin to talk about what goes on in our heads?
It helps if we talked to people who know what we are going through, but do younger Singaporeans have the right listening skills to counsel their peers?
“I’ve helped many of my friends and family get through emotional times,” says Leom Sheng Peng, 25. “My hope and goal (as a youth volunteer) is to empower more youths to take care of themselves emotionally and in turn, be able to help and support their peers.”
Sheng Peng is one of two volunteer youth leaders involved in nEbO’s upcoming Peer Supporters Programme – slated to start in March 2023.
nEbO, short for “Nobody enjoys being ordinary”, is the junior membership arm of labour movement NTUC, and aims to create a community of “Work-Ready, World-Ready and Life-Ready” youths.
In collaboration with Limitless Singapore, nEbO’s Peer Supporters Programme (PSP) is a 15-hour training programme that aims to raise awareness and promote the importance of mental wellness among youths and contribute to the conversation on mental health and wellness.
nEbO previously posted a video on YouTube on mental health, but this is its first foray into a “youth-help-youth” programme, with its leaders being equipped with the right skills to support themselves and their peers in their mental health journeys.
Interested youths can visit nEbO’s social media to learn more about the programme when it goes live on March 25.
“I can see so much potential in (this programme). As someone who started the first nEbO mental health dialogue, I have always wanted this mental health initiative to be scalable,” shares Glennis Ang, 25.
The NUS business grad volunteers with youth organisations like the People’s Association and the Global Research & Consulting Group, which is a group of students who collaborate with non-profits around the world to engage in pro bono consulting and research projects.
Her two years with nEbO has instilled in her a “strong sense of connection, fulfillment, and fun”, she says.
She told NTUC’s content portal labourbeat.org: “Very often, we engage in random catchups with our friends, talking about everything under the sun. And sometimes, these conversations get heavy.”
“I hope to be able to lend any support to my friends through active listening and identifying early symptoms of stress and anxiety, and be there for them in the right way.”
Other youth-led mental wellness programmes
PSP isn’t the only youth-led mental wellness programme. There are national-level movements such as Beyond The Label and It’s OKAY to Reach Out.
For younger Singaporeans, Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) has a Community Peer Supporter programme and Silver Ribbon Singapore started its Youth Chapter in 2016 to encourage youths to talk about mental well-being and “promote positivity towards mental health issues”.
Like these organisations, nEbO’s PSP aims to provide youths with the “basic skillsets to manage their own emotions” and be able to be there for their friends in their time of need.
“PSP is less about intervening directly with friends’ mental issues, but being their first listening ear and being a preventive support before their mental issues escalate to require professional help,” says Sheng Peng.
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Glennis explains that advocating for mental health comes in many ways, such as “living a healthy lifestyle, volunteering for a greater cause, and simply sharing tips and advice with peers.”
“A little goes a long way,” she adds.
Glennis herself has come a long way. Born with a lisp, she was a quiet child and kept her thoughts to herself out of fear of being teased by her peers.
When she entered NUS Business School, class participation and mandatory presentations glaringly highlighted her speech impediment.
Overcoming her insecurity was no easy feat, taking years of practice, nurturing ‘self-love’, and her friends by her side to get Glennis to where she is today.
“Having been through this myself, I would love to step up and support those who are going through the same as me – as I know how it feels like to feel challenged every day without support.”
Importance of peer support
“Peers and friends are often the first people that a young person will turn to for mental health support,” says Asher Low, founder of Limitless Singapore, a non-profit organisation that aims to provide youths with mental health support.
He explains: “I believe that youths who volunteer with (nEbO) have social causes at heart and will be keen to be deployed into their communities to support others.”
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Asher started out as a social worker before focusing on youth mental health. Limitless advocates for the dismantling of the stigma surrounding mental health and improving “public knowledge and skills in trauma-informed care.”
He hopes that the collaboration between Limitless and nEbO will equip youths with the skills to be there for their friends – by helping them understand that it’s okay not to be okay and not to be ashamed of asking for help.
“We want to help youths in PSP understand that they can be themselves and support their friends the way that only they can. We also want to equip them with the knowledge and skills to look out for distress or other mental health concerns, listen actively and without judgement, intervene and provide support at the peer level, and link these friends to further help if possible.”
Glennis says: “(I am) happy to support whenever – be it giving talks, speaking to youths one on one, sharing on social media etcetera. I’m excited to see how this project will impact youths!”
Asher encourages youths to volunteering for worthy causes.
“It helps to build perspective and empathy. And many young people who have made conscious lifelong decisions to support, volunteer, or dedicate their careers to social causes started by volunteering. Sometimes life is better worth living when you’re living for more.”
nEbO’s Peer Supporters Programme goes live on March 25, 2023. Stay tuned to nEbO’s social media for volunteering opportunities and leadership programs.
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