Activities and interactions shape our identity, esteem and overall development. For the young, their growing years are especially precious, but social adversity, rejection, isolation may interfere and up-end their mental and emotional confidence and drive them to instability, depression and anxiety. Friendships and identity are critical in these formative years and building resilience and strength are foundations for young people to avoid pitfalls, rise from adversity and forge ahead to overcome difficulties. We cannot prevent adversity, but how can we use adversity to make us more resilient.
Our young have grown up with social media and there is no escaping the strong signals of the internet. So much is shared, compared and shaped. While there are benefits from information and connectivity, there are also serious costs to those who are sensitive and may not "perform" or present themselves well on the various social media platforms. Hate speech, fake news, cyber bullying, social envy, sexting and many other socially negative practices can create isolation, depressive thoughts and emotional anxiety. We need to understand - not judge - to keep them safe.
Duty of Care
We also need internet platform providers to offer their services responsibly and take their duty of care seriously. For this we call legislators to act swiftly and decisively to stop unhealthy dialogue and more importantly to filter out dangerous content which glorifies self-harm and suicide. UK government has recognised its role in regulating social media networks and the need to use legislation to help protect our young in Singapore.
"Perhaps it is due to cyber bullying on social media platforms, perhaps it is because social media plays a part in shaping their sense of self-worth, and it drives a certain fear of missing out - there is even an acronym for it, FOMO, and the fear of being left out, it amplifies negative emotions of insecurity and inferiority. And in the absence of an adequate support system, the dangers that depression or suicidal thoughts go unchecked increase."
- Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development ST, 26 Sep 2019
Bullying - online or otherwise - has become one of the most serious problems facing young people today. It has driven many into isolation, depression and self-harm. Parents, teachers and friends play a key role in addressing this problem, and we all need to learn how to stop the bullying online, in classrooms, at home or in the playground. We gather some resources here to raise awareness and support victims of bullying.
Ryan Ong shared his story of how he fell through the cracks, in hopes of increasing awareness on the need for better mental healthcare and literacy.
How parents, teachers and kids can prevent bullying (Americian Psychological Association)
Relationships with friends are the backbone of a young person's life. According to an Australian parenting website, it is the romantic relationships which are thought to be the major development milestone for a person as these usually happen during adolescence, a stage when so many changes are happening - physical, social and emotional. Romantic relationships are an emotional investment and feelings felt can lead towards a deeper capacity to care, share and develop intimacy. So if a romantic relationship is broken, the effects on the mind and heart can be devastating. Not many young people are equipped to handle rejection and if poorly managed, these break-ups may result in feelings of isolation and spiral down to depression.
How can we tell if someone is handling a breakup in a healthy way and how can we support them? There are support strategies for parents as well as for peers but as with any tool, care should be given to adjust to suit the person's needs. Where in doubt seek help from the professionals.
Gender & Identity
Discussions on gender identity (ie what a person feels and who they identify themselves to be) usually start during the teenage years. Many young people seek clarity on who they are and may eventually identify with non-traditional preconceptions of gender types. (Read More: Teen Talk (Canada). This can become problematic in societies which are conservative and can drive people to despair and depression.
People in the LGBTQ+ community are deemed by WHO to be vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and behaviours because of the double-stigma they face. In USA, young LGBTQ+ people seriously consider suicide as much as three time more than heterosexual youths according to The Trevor Project. We do not have official indicators for Singapore or the region but we suspect that prejudice and unacceptance of non-traditional gender stereotypes exists in many circles here. Gender dysphoria, social and cyber bullying, family rejection and social stigma add to the litany of problems transgender people face. Coupled with mental illness, they thus suffer double-stigma. The Fenway Institute published a report discussing key mental health risks and the response which community can take to prevent suicide among the LGBTQ+ community.
In Singapore, Oogachaga and other non-profit organisations have initiated support systems for the well being of the LGBTQ+ community and promotes inclusivity in the community. They offer counselling and support services to those faced with challenges, including transgender youths, and offer their parents guidance to restoring relationships with their children.
“it doesn’t help too with social stigma against mental health and LGBTQ+ that push more away from the care they need, like me.”
~ a transgender person on the double-stigma faced and why transgender people avoid care.
More on the unique and complex health concerns of LGBTQ+ community (by Drugwatch)