Did you know? A recent study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in August 2021 found that 1 in 10 respondents met the criteria for mild to severe stress, and 1 in 20 respondents indicated that they had suicidal thoughts 2 weeks prior to being interviewed. With the pandemic taking its toll on the nation, parents may wonder how they can create a safe space to support and build the mental resilience of their children.
In a 1-hour Virtual Dialogue Session by Beyond the Label Festival moderated by Ms. Junia Tan (Founder of Mum Space), panellists Ms. Charmaine Jalleh (Counsellor, TOUCH Community Services) and Ms. Karen Poh who is a caregiver to her son and works as Volunteer Manager at CAL provided insightful personal and professional advice to help parents navigate their children’s mental health.
Karen spoke about noticing changes in her son – he would withdraw, refuse to go to school, and sleep a lot. He was later diagnosed with depression. What really helped Karen was the all-round support she received from the school, her son’s healthcare professionals, as well as the community of caregiver friends she found through attending Caregivers Alliance Limited’s (CAL) programme.
When asked about her thoughts on ‘over-protecting’ children, Karen shared: “In our family, we make adaptations to help my son. Beyond talking and listening to him and supporting him with the treatment he needs, we also do things together so that he feels less lonely and isolated. Other than that, I treat my son the same way I treat my other children. He is expected to do his chores, rudeness is not tolerated, and I set boundaries for him”. Karen explained that this way, parents can normalise mental health and children will not feel stigmatised. “How we treat our children will set the tone and manner in which others treat our children – if we think that our child is sick and tolerate his bad behaviours, then the others will also follow suit,” she added.
As children do not always confide in their parents, Charmaine encourages parents to explore creative ways to create space for mental health conversations with their children. “It can be scary for the child if we do direct confrontation. What parents can do is to involve the child in activities, for example watching a movie, and [ease into] the topic during the engagement – to facilitate free-flow, open conversation.” Charmaine also shared that parents can adopt role-modelling to reinforce positive coping mechanisms in their children as well; when adults themselves react healthily to stress, it is likely that their children will follow suit.
The journey of caregiving and parenting can be daunting, especially when mental health issues are impacting more and more youths. But support and resources are available, and no one is ever alone. "The world always tells us that we need to be that perfect and unbroken bowl but in fact, everyone is a broken bowl. Helping someone is like taking a broken bowl and using gold to piece them together, to create a priceless unique masterpiece,” Karen beautifully articulated.
For parents who are keen to explore professional help for their children or themselves, TOUCH Community Services offer mental wellness programmes for youths aged 12 to 25 that involves individual and family sessions, as well as group work. They also have programmes for children from 9 to 12 years old, to help detect early signs of mental health and behavioural issues. Find out more here.
Caregivers Alliance Limited offers fully-funded training and support for primary, secondary, or peer caregivers of persons with mental health issues and dementia. Register here.
Watch the virtual dialogue session: https://www.facebook.com/beyondthelabelsg/videos/859359291385951