I remember what it felt like when news first broke of the River Valley High School incident on Monday afternoon. Chat groups were going afire, and I was furiously refreshing the news article for updates. One thing rang loudly in all our minds, “How can such a thing be true? How could it have happened in Singapore?”.
I remember the heaviness I felt for the rest of the week, the sadness I felt for the youths and the families involved. It was difficult not to be moved by Minister Chan Chun Sing’s address in Parliament. It was plain that he too, was deeply pained by what had happened and represented our collective grief in Parliament.
In particular, he shared something that was deeply etched in his mind. The classmates of the 16-year-old boy said ‘minister, please help our friend, please take care of him.’
Minister Chan said, “In that moment of darkness, I saw grace, I saw compassion, I saw solidarity among the students and staff of River Valley High.”
It is this grace, compassion, and solidarity that Minister Chan hopes will continue to unite our community in the face of such tragedy. It is poignant for a Minister to say these words, “reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness”.
Lessons from River Valley: It takes a community
Minister Chan’s words are what we can all reflect and work upon. Singapore collectively, needs to move aside from the “Asian culture” of stigmatising those who come forward to seek help. He identified that we should “take down our barriers and treat struggling individuals who step forward with care and compassion”.
Minister Chan called on parents to spend more time listening to their children and give them space to process their emotions and feelings. I particularly love what he said about edification, about building people up instead of tearing down.
“The greatest gift that we can give to our children is to accept and love them unconditionally, help them be at ease with who they are. It is always very sad to see a child come home from school without any sparkle in the eye. Then they are just being made to feel that they are living up to someone else’s expectations, and it destroys the confidence of the child.”
What about the workplace?
Oftentimes, adults too, struggle in the workplace. We go through long days of work and sometimes end up like what Minister said – without the sparkle in our eyes and with our confidence destroyed.
There is a need to keep toxic behaviour at bay in the workplace and to nurture an edifying work culture. This is especially important during the pandemic, which has caused a blurring of boundaries between work and personal time. WFH arrangements have also made it harder for us to connect with our colleagues and may have affected collaboration at work. This results in more people feeling alienated and isolated socially. It is not surprising that more Singaporeans express that WFH arrangements are taking a toll on their mental health.
Labour MP Melvin Yong highlighted this issue in Parliament recently. He cited a March 2021 survey which showed that seven in 10 local employees had felt stressed by Covid-19 in the past six months. NTUC also found that close to two-thirds of workers said they experienced difficulties distinguishing work and non-work hours when WFH.
“But despite our high stress levels, there remains significant barriers to seeking assistance,” said Mr Yong. Costs are one barrier to seeking quality mental healthcare. And almost 80 per cent of respondents in a poll by SG Mental Health Matters reflected this.
Mr Yong too called for the breaking of the social stigma, and for Singapore to make quality mental healthcare more accessible to all Singaporeans.
In addition to the changes in the workplace, the pandemic has wrought huge changes upon all our lives. Everyone has been adapting to a new way of life, and some may be struggling more than others with it.
What we can all do
With everything that has been going on, we should all take some time to pause and breathe. The River Valley tragedy has taught us that mental wellness is of utmost importance. We can show empathy, listen to one another and choose to edify. In the workplace, a little kindness can go a long way. And a quick chat with a colleague can help us feel motivated and regain our strength again.