The Ministry of Education (MOE) will train a core group of students in each school to help them identify signs of distress in their peers and offer basic social and emotional support starting from this year, said Minister of State for Education Janil Putucheary in Parliament on Tuesday (7 March).
These peer supporters can raise awareness of mental health issues among their fellow students and help engender a “culture of support and resilience”, wherein students are willing to seek help, he added.
Such training and experience will also offer a “unique development opportunity” for the students involved to hone their empathetic listening, interpersonal and communication skills.
Putucheary was responding to a question from Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui on MOE’s involvement in NurtureSG and its ongoing efforts “to build healthy bodies and healthy minds” during the Committee of Supply (COS) debate on the ministry’s 2017 Budget.
Announced during the MOE’s 2016 COS debate, NurtureSG is a plan for enhancing health outcomes among Singapore’s youth and is jointly led by Putucheary as well as Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min.
Touching on how older students in particular play a vital role in fostering a caring and supportive school environment, Putucheary pointed to how some schools have already taken the lead in developing and strengthening their own peer support networks.
“We hope to build on this good work and establish the practice across our school system,” he said.
Acknowledging that there is no single solution to the underlying problem behind mental health issues, Putucheary said that one of the NurtureSG taskforce’s recommendations would be to set up an interagency work group on youth suicide.
The group will be led by Professor Daniel Fung of the Institute of Mental Health, he said, adding that he is confident that its findings will be “instructive”.