4 Problems Singapre's Youth Wish They Could Talk About (But DON'T)
As many as one out of seven peoplein Singapore are said to have experienced a mental disorder in their lives. This concern is highest among Singapore's youth, as many mental disorders start to emerge in early adulthood.
To make matters worse, COVID-19 has caused many to lose their sense of purpose. Since the pandemic started, as many as one in three young Singaporeans began to worry about their purpose of living.
As urgent as it is, the issue surrounding mental health is not something that our youths talk about openly. While they are more open about their mental health now than in the past, there is still plenty of work to be done to make citizens feel more comfortable around the topic.
What are the issues that continue to weigh down on the minds of our youths? Here are four concerns that most often come up:
1. Financial worries and an uncertain future
COVID-19 has made the future increasingly uncertain for everybody. But for our youths, this is happening amidst a barrage of other uncertainties. According to the latest available National Youth Survey, “future uncertainty” ranked as the biggest source of stress.
The rising cost of housing, combined with the various changes happening in the country, has made many of today’s youth feel like they would not be able to afford what was considered normal in the previous generations.
There is also the uncertainty of decreasing job security. A study in 2018 reported that of the six ASEAN countries, Singapore will face the greatest percentage of job displacement as a result of technology. Though jobs in industries like logistics and trade are in high demand, some worry they aren’t prepared to switch to these careers or embark on a new journey.
Even those that manage to keep their jobs often suffer from burnout. This can lead to a decrease in performance, which makes them even more vulnerable to stress. As many Singaporeans associate their self-worth with their job security and their future, these issues can really take a toll on their mental health.
2. Peer pressure, social media, and bullying
Aside from worry about the future, there is also worry about keeping up in the present. Social media, for example, has made the youth mental health landscape more complex. As young people scroll through their feeds and witness their peers’ curated successes, there is a lot of stress over not feeling good enough.
Many young Singaporeans even worry about showing kindness in public because it might make them look uncool. More specifically, they worry their kindness might be mocked on social media. Combined with the existing stigma surrounding seeking help for your mental health, this can exacerbate the situation.
And then there is the issue of bullying. Having the third-highest rate of bullying in the world, Singapore’s bullying problem is a major obstacle for its youth. One out of every four children is a victim of bullying. It often has racial, ableist, fatphobic, and other discriminatory dimensions, and has been known to drive victims to suicide.
If young people do not wish to speak up about bullying, it is often because conditions at home are not much better. In 2014, over half of the people who emailed Samaritans of Singapore for counselling did so due to family problems.
According to their report, family problems constitute the most common cause of distress among suicidal youth. This should be no surprise, as a lack of a stable household means a lack of safe space for young people to deal with their own problems.
There is a view that problems in youth are caused by divorced parents. But while divorce can cause stress, conflicting parents who stay together affect children and youth a lot worse than divorce.
As with many other problems, this situation has only gotten worse since COVID-19. The lockdown has led to an increase in parenting stress and marital conflicts, which makes home conditions a lot worse for children and youth in these households.
4. Sexual violence, shame, and victim-blaming
In 2015, a survey revealed that one in three people aged 17 to 25 in Singapore had faced sexual violence. Yet, once again, only 6% of those seek help. For something that can be very traumatising, sexual violence tends to go unreported and is hardly talked about. Our youth cited shame, embarrassment, family shame, self-blame, and disbelief as reasons for not speaking up.
This problem continues as youth graduate from college and enter the workforce. According to another survey, two out of five people here experience workplace sexual harassment. This is one form of workplace bullying that often goes overlooked, as it is very often normalised as something to be tolerated if one wants to keep their job.
It is pretty obvious that sexual violence can deeply impact mental health. And yet, it is a topic that is very difficult to talk about. Shame and all its forms continue to make it a challenging topic. A lot of us still hold on to a culture of victim-blaming and normalisation of harassment. Complex as it may be, sexual violence is a very urgent issue.
Speaking up is crucial
Today, more young people are seeking help for mental health issues, with the number of Singaporeans seeking help from the Institute of Mental Health jumping 190% from 2015 to 2017. But many challenges remain. Stigma and social tolerance for mental health are different in Singapore compared to other countries, which makes the issue more complex.
This is not least because the issue of mental health is highly connected to problems that our youth are still hesitant to talk about. Financial worries and an uncertain future looms ahead. Peer pressure and bullying are made worse by social media. Family problems take away their safe space. Sexual violence at school and in the workplace are still being normalised.
If we are to become a resilient generation, these topics need more safe spaces for discussion. This means developing the courage to be vulnerable, as well as to listen to each other with open ears, free of judgment. Speaking up is crucial, today more than ever.
At Young NTUC, we strive to provide safe support for you as you tackle some of the most pressing problems of your generation. Connect with us via our social media platforms to learn about our programmes and initiatives for young workers; Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn.
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