SGPsychStud: Why All of Us Should See a Counsellor

According to Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC Singapore),
"counselling is a generic term used to cover processes of interviewing, assessment, testing, guiding, and helping individuals to cope, manage or solve problems and plan for the future."
So why should we see a counsellor??
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Some of us feel that we should not see a counsellor unless we have some actual existing problems to overcome.  With most of us living a simple life with each passing day, we wouldn't experience much major crises often. These major crises tend to come in the form of experiencing the death of loved ones, major illnesses, issues in relationships, and other personal issues.  We tend to act strong in times of these crises and overcome it.  However, so what if we overcome the crises?
However, with each issue and/or crisis that we experience, it takes a toll on our emotions on a long term.  Even if we resolved the issue (as it seems), we may not have resolved our emotional issues.

To talk to a counsellor gives us the chance to discuss about these emotions that we may not wish to discuss with our closed ones.  Discussing such topics with closed ones may display a sense of vulnerability, which may contradict the strong front that we wish to display on the exterior.
Only by discussing the unresolved underlying emotional issues, we will then be able to move on with our lives. 

What good does it do for me if I see a counsellor?
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Seeing a counsellor is not to help you solve a problem.  Rather, it is purely to talk  and have someone with good listening skills and empathy listen about your emotional issues.  In the process, you might gain a different perspective about the issue or probably find a solution towards the issue.
But what do I really gain from counselling?  
  • A better insight about your self and your world
  • Maintenance of your own mental health
  • Learning to be open and congruent with your inner self
  • Better relationships with others
  • Many others
You see a doctor when you are sick; you see a psychiatrist if you have mental illness.
You do a regular medical check-up for your health; 
Do you see a counsellor to have a mental health check-up? 

SG Psych Stuff posts related to counselling:
SGPsychStud: For Therapy - Empathy
SGPsychStud: For Therapy - The thinker and the observer
SGPsychStud: Analogies - The passenger and the driver
What's the difference??
Miss Psychobabble: Busting the Myths of Counseling
Miss Psychobabble: Why and How you should apply emotional first aid

Related external weblinks:

SGPsychStud: Why Do We Adjust To New Cultures

Copyright of SG Psych Stuff
I just returned from my overseas trip in a Western country.  The above picture is taken from a very high building in that city that I was in.  During my short holiday trip in that country, I was constantly adjusting myself towards their culture, behaviour, and norms.  This was relatively easy for me as I have been in the country for several years previously;  however, it was difficult for my other family members who have only been there for holidays.  Halfway through the holiday, it got me thinking:
Why am I adjusting to this new culture, resulting in me behaving differently from as in Singapore?
This modification of behaviour is called 'cultural assimilation', where a person or a minority culture gradually adopts new behaviours, attitudes, and languages from that of the host or majority culture.  In my case, I was slowly experiencing cultural assimilation where my experience and exposure in that country has affected me to change; but this may not be the case for my family members.
For more information on culture assimilation please visit:

But why am I doing it?
Image from WikiMedia Commons:
My guess is that it could be somewhat related to Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Physiological:  Being in a foreign country, having or obtaining the basic necessities, such as food, water, shelter, are very necessary.  This resulted in making sure that we know the language, their cultural norms in terms of food and dining, as well as being well prepared in term of arranging for accommodation.  

Safety:  Though travelling overseas in a group (e.g. with family members) is generally safer than travelling alone,  it is still up to the individual to make sure that personal security and well-being is not compromised.
We had a road-trip in the rural areas for four days, and hence making sure we stay and move together for safety reasons.  Having knowledge of details, such as what time the sun sets and other travel conditions, is important too as we need to be aware of what may happen during the road-trip.
My dad did something unknowingly that I had tell him off, as it compromised his safety.  As an elderly man with grandchildren, playing with young kids and joking with them in Singapore is something that he does quite often.  However, during our trip, he told some young kids (of about 3 to 5 years old):  "Come with Uncle..." in front of the children's parents.  Though we knew that he meant no harm, it could be perceived by the parents that he is trying to kidnap their children.  Hence for his safety, I had to tell him to stop doing that.    

Love/Belonging:  This may not be a big issue, as my family were with me, and hence there was a high level of love.  Though it is only a holiday, I do have some attachment towards the country having stayed there for a few years.  Unavoidably, I do have some form of belonging and attachment towards the country and city, which did (sometimes during the trip) led me to consider whether I should migrate there.

Esteem:  Although we are in a foreign Western country, the city has been accepting students and immigrants from different countries, hence it is not uncommon to see a lot of Asian people there.  Being Singaporean and of Chinese descent, it is quite unavoidable that we are seen as the same as those from China, Hongkong, Japan, Vietnam, and other Asian countries.
My parents unconsciously keep speaking in Chinese (though not very fluent in it) for two reasons: a) Convenience of understanding each other, and b) Not to let the locals understand us.  I had to explain to them that "They (the locals) all look the same to you; We also look the same as those from China to them, especially if you speak in Mandarin.".  Perhaps speaking in English there allowed me to have a higher sense of self-esteem that I am different and able to assimilate and localise into their environment, and not just a plain old tourist from Asia.

Self-actualisation:  This may not be very relevant to the question, but considering it as a Singaporean, it do answers it in some way.  Living and growing up in this multicultural Singapore,  there is a high tendency that we are able to adapt and adjust ourselves to others of different cultures, and this is a Singaporean ability that we take great pride in.  To truly be ourselves in a foreign country is a difficult thing to do, and only by bringing in our "leh, lah, lor" once in a while, by looking for our chicken rice or char kway tiao in the restaurants, by showing our kiasuism characteristics, by proudly say that we are from Singapore the small red dot, that is probably truly being who we are as Singaporeans.

So why do I adjust to that new culture in the foreign country?  
It was due to Maslow's hierarchy of needs and being the true-blue Singaporean in me!

Jon: A Student's Perspective of Singapore Mental Health Conference 2016 (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1, which is Day 1 of the Singapore Mental Health Conference...
Note from SG Psych Stuff:  Photos displayed in this blog post are shared by Jonathan; please seek his permission, via his details below to re-use the photos. 

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Day 2:
Plenary 3:  Stigma towards People with Mental Disorders – A Singapore Perspective (Gretchen)
Speaker:  Adj Asst Prof Mythily Subramaniam

People roughly know what mental illnesses are but there will always be stigma about it.  Stigma is a mark of shame or disapproval that results in an individual being rejected and discriminated against.  A national study was conducted in Singapore to examine stigmatizing attitudes towards 5 disorders:  alcohol abuse, dementia, depression, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  The results showed that Depression was more likely to be perceived as ‘Weak – not – Sick’, schizophrenia and alcohol abuse as more dangerous and unpredictable while dementia and OCD were perceived to be less dangerous.  This stigma leads to people with mental illness to have little intention to seek help from their friends and family especially for alcohol abuse.  People who hold these stigmas are usually those with a lower education and income status, however, those who have a close friend or family member would hold lesser stigmatization to mental illnesses.
I think that it is really important for the public to understand mental illness so that they would be able to help their friends or family who are in need in the future and they would not shun them away just because of a mental illness.  It is already difficult enough for a person going through it, but not getting the support that is needed from their friends and family would be tougher.  This session gave me a better understanding about the stigma that an individual with mental illness might face and how the public can change this by lending their support.

Plenary 4:  Recovery and Resilience: Family Resilience Training (Cho Ming Xiu)
Speakers:  Dr Lori Ashcraft, Mr Eugene Johnson

Mr Eugene and Dr Lori of Resilience Inc shared their expertise and experiences in setting up 53 programmes in 23 communities and 13 facilities in the United States to create a better future for individuals living with serious mental health issues.  Some of these programmes include:  crisis response services, peer support services, recovery education and supported employment for persons with mental illnesses.
Currently, they are in the midst of collaborating with Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL) Singapore, to provide family resilience training and programme development for the staff, leaders and volunteers, so as to equip them with the necessary skills sets and knowledge to provide care and support for the clients.  Some of the trainings include:  recovery and resilience, facilitating skills, resilient leadership, family strengths bank, family resilience action plan and family mission statement for caregivers.
Personally, I think that family resilience training for caregivers is highly important, as highlighted in the theme for the Conference, “Mind matters, Family matters”.  As caregivers are better equipped with the appropriate resources to help their family members whom are suffering from mental illnesses, they would be in a better position and are able to make more informed choices in their daily battles with challenges from taking care of someone with mental illness.

Breakout Session 9:  Panel Discussion - Promoting Mental Health Advocacy: The Voices of Experience Perspective (Cho Ming Xiu)
Speakers:  Mr Wong Kim Hoh, A/Prof Marcus Yu-Lung Chiu, Miss Poon Lye Yin, Mdn Junainah Eusope, Mr Jared Goh
Moderators:  Adj. A/Prof Chua Hong Choon, Ms Chan Lishan

This was the most engaging and interactive panel discussion throughout the conference!  It was opened to students from various junior colleges, polytechnics, universities, healthcare professionals, social service professionals, educators, media, caregivers and persons in recovery.  Some of the topics discussed were the stigma that persons with mental illnesses faced, the struggles of being a caregiver, the work of a mental healthcare professional, the media’s portrayal of mental health in Singapore and how do we as a society help destigmatize and raise mental health awareness in Singapore.
Some of the key highlights were the sharing by Mdm Junainah, a mental health advocate with IMH since 2012.  She shared her personal struggles with major depressive disorder and how she has used her recovery story to touch others, and encourage them to seek treatment for mental health issues.  Mr Jared Goh also shared his personal story as a caregiver to his sister whom has major depression and anxiety disorder, and the importance of the role of the family and caregiver in the road to recovery for a person with mental illness.  Mr Wong Kim Hoh, a senior writer with the Straits Times also gave an interesting account of how the media should take on a more humanistic approach in journalism, in particular to news related to persons with mental health instead of having the main intention of creating headlines.
I felt that the panel discussion was insightful and engaging, as the audience had the opportunity to participate in the discussion though a real-time online polling system to gather our thoughts.  It was also heartening to see many youths rising up and voicing out their thoughts and aspirations for the mental health community in Singapore!  

Breakout Session 10:  Resilience in Youth and the Elderly (Abstract Information from Programme Book)
Speakers:  Dr Grace Lee, Mr Sean Kong, Dr Tam Wai Jia

Mental well-being relates to our ability to positively experience life and make a meaningful contribution within our community.  Building resilience is an essential step to enhancing our mental well-being.  Resilience helps us to deal with challenges, solve problems, achieve our goals, and also reduces our vulnerability to mental health difficulties.  In this session, latest research in resilience was discussed and sharing on programmes and services targeted at different populations were showcased.

Breakout Session 11:  Challenging Mood Disorders in Youths and Interventions (Jon)
Speakers:  Dr Teng Jia Ying, Dr Johnson Fam, Miss Terri Chen, Mr Lee Seng Meng 

This particular breakout session was interesting as it gave us a better understanding of what is being done to better help youths with mood disorders.  The first speaker Dr. Teng Jia Ying from the National University Hospital, Singapore, shared on the importance of developing more effective screening procedures for youths.  This is mostly due to the high number of youths that are not getting treatment for their problems earlier.  She also shared a clinical workflow utilized by the hospital in determining when to screen and what to do if people were tested positive for mood disorders.

This flowchart has been found to also been quite successful in detecting various mood disorders, which is promising as early detection can often lead to better outcomes in treating these mood disorders.  Hopefully more hospitals can start up similar initiatives and fine tune them to get the best outcomes for the patients.
The second speaker Dr. Johnson Fam from the National University Hospital, Singapore, talked about a shift away from the traditional pharmacological treatments to a more neuropsychiatric methods such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.  This involves sending low level of electric currents into the brain, and works to generate more neuronal activity in areas where there is a lack of it, while reducing neuronal activity in areas that are hyperactive.  Now I want to point out at this point in time that such treatments are not like what you would see on the television and are safe, and in most cases even beneficial for the patients.  Additionally, most studies have found few side effects which is promising as anti-depressants have been known to have many unwanted side effects such as weight gain or sweaty palms.  Perhaps in the next few years we will see more of such treatments being used as the literature grows and it becomes more empirically supported.
The third speaker Miss Terri Chen from the National University Hospital, Singapore, shared on her work with group therapies for youths with mood disorders.  In particular, how they have recently started a form a group therapy based on concepts within Dialectical Behaviour Therapy which is the gold standard and most used treatment for Borderline Personality Disorders.  For those who do not know what it is, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is a modified form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and is designed to change patterns of behaviour that are not helpful (e.g., self-harm).  Miss Chen has found that through her group therapy sessions, she was able to greatly reduce the amount of self-harm in the youths that she was working with.  This is a really good sign because group therapy is more cost effective than individual therapy, and with the widening patient to therapist ratio in Singapore, such forms of therapy could offer an alternative form of treatment that has a wider reach but similar effectiveness.
The final speaker Mr Lee Seng Meng from Student Care Services, believed strongly that we should be empowering our youths and promoting positive mental health rather than just preventing it.  His take was that instead of being content with having no mental disorders, we should be giving youths tools that will help them overcome any challenges they may face.  To that end, his programme on positive youth development (see below) aims to teach youths various core aspects of mental resilience such as regulation of emotions and understanding how to navigate social norms amongst others.  By doing so, we can achieve more than a mental disorder free youth population, but have youths that are mentally resilient and able to take on adversities in the future.  I personally believe this initiative is extremely good as we need youths to be proactive members of society, and to contribute actively as part of it instead of just not being a burden to society.  I do hope that more schools will follow in his footsteps and have such programmes for their youths as well.

Breakout Session 12:  The Emerging Role of Caregivers (Abstract Information from Programme Book)
Speakers:  Dr Lori Ashcraft, Mr Chris Martin, Dr Sally Thio, Ms Rita Haque, Ms Dawn Kor, A/Prof Kalyani Mehta, Dr Tan Jit Seng

This training symposium was based on the highly valued role of caregivers and the important part they can play in improving the services available to those who suffer from mental health issues.  The caregiver movement in Singapore has grown rapidly over the past few years and caregivers have spread the message that recovery and resilience is possible.  Yet, too often caregivers are not given meaningful roles to play in the healing process.  They have a valuable contribution to make and must be given opportunities to contribute more broadly and deeply to the delivery of services.  Through this training, caregiver support groups will learn how to form their own direction and how best to support the growth of members of such groups.  Additionally, ways to overcome conflicts and use problems to build resilience and strengthen this movement towards more caregivers being trained and supported were shared.  Furthermore, perspectives from current caregivers were shared at the second session of this talk which shed light on the various factors that could play a role in the journey of a caregiver.

Breakout Session 13:  The Next Phase of Primary Care: Managing Mental Health Patients (Abstract Information from Programme Book)
Speakers:  Dr Mok Yee Ming, Dr Eng Soo Kiang, Dr Jared Ng, Dr Terence Yow

Primary care for mental health is a key component of any well-functioning health system. For an effective and efficient system, primary care for mental health must be complemented by additional level of care. It includes secondary care components, which primary care professionals can turn to for supervision, referrals and support. Links to informal and community-based services are also necessary. It is crucial to understand appreciate the relationships, and to learn the role of integrated primary mental health care within the context of the overall health system. Through this session, general practitioners and allied health community partners were invited to share their experiences in the management of patients in the community with physical and mental health needs. Mental health is an integral part of primary care services and with improved accessibility, mental health needs of the community are more likely to be identified and treated together with the co-morbid physical condition, contributing to a more holistic care.

Breakout Session 14:  Paradigm Shift in Mental Health Services: A Peer-Driven Approach (Cho Ming Xiu)
Speakers:  Mr Eugene Johnson, Dr Eu Pui Wai, Mr Anjan Ghosh, Ms Rosalind Pek, Ms Nicole Kay

It is really exciting to know that the mental health services in Singapore is taking a whole new paradigm shift towards a more peer-driven and recovery oriented approach, where persons with mental health issues are involved in the design and implementation of services.  In the bid to break down stigma associated with mental illnesses and strengthen the support for persons suffering from mental health issues, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), National Council of Social Services (NCSS) and Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs) are co-developing this initiative, where a pool of former patients may be peer specialists to share their personal experiences and offer advice to patients as part of a new national framework.  Dr Eu of IMH and Mr Anjan of NCSS have stated that the two organizations are currently working with VWOs such as the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) in rolling this initiative out, where these peer specialists will be hired on a full-time basis to work in IMH, NCSS or the VWOs.
Rosalind Pek, one of the first few pioneering peer specialists from SAMH shared that the beauty of being a peer specialist is to see the lives of the persons in recovery being transformed through mutual experiences.  She was elated to see one of her clients whom was previously aimless in life, now motivated to strive towards in becoming a peer specialist to encourage fellow peers whom are also suffering from mental illnesses.  She believes that through shared lived experiences, it will empower fellow persons with mental illness to rise up and change their lives.
Personally, I feel that this is a game changer in building a support community for persons in recovery and those whom have successfully recovered.  Through common lived experiences, they share a common bond and aspire to help one another to live purposeful lives, which is in essence the greatest gift to those whom are suffering silently with mental illnesses.

Workshop 1:  Psychiatry Residents Symposium – Heart to Heart: Conversations about Real Life Ethical Dilemmas (Gretchen)
Speakers:  Dr Calvin Fones, Dr Yap Hwa Ling

This session was supposedly for psychiatry residents but it was still open to anyone who wanted to sit in to listen.  Additionally, its aim was to generate awareness on the multitude of ethical issues surrounding mental health care.  Clinical ethics skills in psychiatric practice is the ability to recognize one’s internal discomfort as a signal of potential ethical conflicts and seek resources that will help in approaching these ethical issues.  We did 4 case studies of different ethical dilemmas and the psychiatry residents gave their opinions.  Furthermore, people from the social service sectors also gave their point of views.  It was interesting to hear the different opinions about the ethical dilemmas.  Ethical dilemmas do not necessarily have a correct and straightforward answer.  Dr Fones ended off the session by saying:
“You come in here thinking you will get a direct answer, but when this session finishes, you are more confused”
Workshop 2:  Workshop, Recovery and Resilience (II): Wellness in Action (Hakim)
Speakers:  Dr Lori Ashcraft, Mr Eugene Johnson

The session was a continuation of the session conducted in Plenary 4, Recovery and Resilience (I):  Family Resilience Training that was focused on how the dynamics and support of family members could have a significant impact on the recovery journey of a person with mental challenges.  This session on the other hand focused more on how a recovering individual could benefit from adding more resilience into his/her recovery journey.  This is because some of us, may find comfort in staying in that area of safe recovery which results in possibly limiting our full recovery potential.
 In my opinion, it is simple yet amazing how by being resilient, an individual who for example expresses 'hope' in recovering would find it a lot more manageable if they are resilient in being optimistic with the goals being set.  Also, at a cultural level, promoting the recovery culture would bring forth a community of wellness through the act of being resilient in every individual in the community.
In exploring the dimensions of wellness, Dr Ashcraft mentioned the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, namely Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual, Occupational, Social, Financial, Physical and Environmental, are where each individual's choice may vary depending on how they prioritize one factor from the other based on their beliefs, personality, well-being, etc.  These were further explored through interacting and sharing of views amongst the different groups.
I find that the session gave a new refreshing take on things that would definitely benefit anyone and everyone, not just for individuals working in the mental health sector.

Closing Plenary:  Finding Inspiration in Mental Health (Jon)
Speaker:  Mayor Denise Phua

The last plenary session was presented by Mayor Denise Phua.  For those who did not previously know, Mayor Denise has struggled with having to raise a child with special needs, and I can’t even begin to say that I know what she’s been through, and is still going through.  I can only imagine the pain she must have been through, yet here she stands in front of us sharing her story of how she turned adversity into success.  Through this talk, she shared with us the struggles she faced such as ostracism from others and the general stigma of having a child with special needs.  But she never gave up and instead wanted to give more support to help people with special needs.  To that end, she set up Pathlight (mainstream school for children with special needs) and has been very active in volunteering.  I think by being so giving by nature, she has touched many lives and have helped changed things for the better.  Lastly, she ends off with sharing how despite her best efforts, without the community supporting her, none of this could be possible.

Finally, we have reached the end of the conference and if you’re still reading this at this point in time, thank you for joining us through this wonderful journey.  Seeing all that has been done and will be done has really rejuvenated us on our quest to really give back to society and to hopefully make a difference in the lives of others one day.  Speaking for all of us who have brought you this post, I hope we have allowed you to walk away from this post with the mind set of how I can better contribute to society.  With that, I would like to thank SGPsychStud for allowing us to post such a lengthy post and we hope that anyone who reads this will find new inspiration in your life journey of helping others!

Thank you for reading the posts!!!
From left to right: Joanne Gan (Nursing Student), Jonathan Kuek - Post Contributor (James Cook University, Singapore), Gretchen Lim - Post Contributor (James Cook University, Singapore), Cho Ming Xiu - Post Contributor (Singapore Institute of Management University)
About the writers:
Jon is a 3rd year psychology student in James Cook University (Singapore).  Learning is his passion and he hopes to one day educate the next generation of psychology students.  He has interests in many fields of psychology, in particular social and clinical psychology.  In his free time, Jon volunteers at the Institute of Mental Health and is constantly looking for new volunteers to join him on his adventure to serve the mentally ill who are staying at the hospital.  Do contact him at if you would be interested in helping them too!
Gretchen is a 2nd year psychology student in James Cook University (Singapore).  She has interests in the field of counselling psychology and hopes to destigmatize mental illnesses in students.  In her spare time, she volunteers for Institute of Mental Health and enjoys travelling.  If you need to contact her, you can email her at
Ming Xiu is currently pursuing his Bachelor in Social Work under the Singapore Institute of Management University (UniSIM) Scholarship.  He is deeply passionate about mental health advocacy and believes in the power of peer empowerment in helping youths with mental health issues towards their road to recovery.  He has worked with youths-at-risk whom were under juvenile probation together with their families and believes that every youth can be a successful story.  He also volunteers with the Institute of Mental Health regularly with Jon and a group of like-minded individuals whom have the heart for persons with mental health issues.  If you need to contact him, you can email him at 
Hakim is a counsellor with ClubHeal, an organization set up by a group of like-minded individuals who have a strong passion in helping people with mental illness and their family members lead a fulfilling and stigma-free life.  ClubHeal runs a psychiatric rehabilitation day care service in which psycho-education and supportive counselling to persons with mental illness and their families are provided.  They also provide outreach programs to them and the general public.  To contact Hakim, you can email him at

Jon: A Student's Perspective of Singapore Mental Health Conference 2016 (Part 1)

The Singapore Mental Health Conference 2016 happened over 27 and 28 May, with the theme of Mind Matters, Family Matters, at Singapore Expo.  This was wonderfully covered by Jonathan Kuek (who also covered the SPS Psychweek 2016 with me!) and his friends!!  Thank you Jon and friends!!
Image Credit:
Hello everyone!  It’s me again and this time I brought a couple friends with me, Ming Xiu, Gretchen, and Hakim (can’t cover the entire conference on my own).  We are excited to share with you our experiences at the Singapore Mental Health Conference 2016 (a 2 day event consisting of 4 plenary sessions, 14 breakout sessions, and 2 workshops).  Sadly we couldn’t cover all the breakout sessions because there were just too many for the 4 of us!  This year’s theme was Mind Matters, Family Matters.  This meant the emphasis was on how we can bring mental health services to the society at large and involving the community, instead of waiting for people to approach mental health services which quite frankly does not happen soon enough until it’s too late.  This is going to be a really long post so sit back, relax and enjoy the conference without having to attend it!
Note from SG Psych Stuff: This post will be broken up into two posts. Photos displayed in this blog post are shared by Jonathan; please seek his permission, via his details below to re-use the photos. 

Day 1:  Opening Address: (Jon)
Speakers:  Adj. A/Prof Chua Hong Choon, Mr Tan Chuan Jin

The conference kicked off with Adj. A/Prof Chua Hong Choon, CEO of the Institute of Mental Health thanking the various agencies involved in the planning and execution of the conference and introducing the main theme of the conference and a basic rundown of the topics that would be covered.  Following which, Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin graced the event with the opening keynote speech which focused heavily on the importance of family support from our biological and “extended families” (community and workplaces) in shaping a mentally-resilient and inclusive society.  This was really heart-warming as it signified an effort to provide more support to various sectors such as caregivers, or people working in social work and other welfare organizations that work with people who are mentally ill or at risk.

Plenary 1:  Uncovering Mindfulness and Well-being (Jon)
Speaker:  Dr Daniel Racey

The first plenary session was by Dr Daniel Racey, a psychiatrist who specializes in mindfulness-based interventions.  It started off with a short mindfulness activity (particularly useful for me because I was sitting by the door and people were talking a lot outside) to help us redirect our attention to the present in preparation for his talk.  He then introduced research which showed how people with wandering minds tended to be unhappy, and how people who practiced meditation frequently were happier than those who did not.  A key concept he shared that I found particular interesting and felt was the biggest take away is that of the “second arrow” phenomenon.
The story goes something like this:  
An individual being shot by an arrow, would often fire a second invisible arrow that causes as much or if not even more pain than the first physical arrow.  
So how does someone to fire an arrow at themselves?  Well, to put it simply, the first arrow often comes from some kind of distressing event, but the second arrow comes from what we choose to make of it. Pretty simple right?  This imaginary second arrow often times leads us to believe that things are worse than they actually are, and the worst part is that it can all be avoided through the conscious effort to not fire it, which is basically what mindfulness teaches (acceptance of the situation while not letting it take over and to live in the present rather than worry about the past or future).  Perhaps we could all consider if we want to fire this second arrow in the future now that we know about it.

Plenary 2:  Mental Health and The Elderly: The impact of Dementia (Jon)
Speaker:  Dr Ng Li-Ling

Dr Ng Li-Ling, a senior consultant from Changi General Hospital was the second speaker of the day and her topic was one that reflects the changing demographics in Singapore.  As the number of elderly people increases, so has the number of dementia cases.  Additionally, this is not a situation isolated to Singapore;  globally the costs of dementia has risen from US$ 604 billion in 2010 to US$ 818 billion in 2015, a scary number right?  With our increasing life span, this number is estimated to increase even further.
The main point she was trying to put across in sharing these numbers is the scary reality of being in this time and age, you get elderly people in their 90s with dementia being taken care of their kids who are in their 60s.  This highlights an urgent need for more to be done to provide support for people with dementia that involves not just the medical professionals, caregivers and social workers (because let’s face it, there’s just not that many of them to go round), but the community at large.  If you’re reading this, why not consider getting more involved too?

Breakout Session 1:  Person-Centered Approach to Eldercare in the Primary and Community Setting (Abstract Information from Programme Book)
Speakers:  Dr Chris Tsoi Tung, Dr Ng Wai Chong, Ms Chong Ying Ying

With Singapore’s ageing population, the well-being of the Singapore elderly study found that the prevalence of dementia was 10 per cent in the elderly population (people aged above 60 years).  To cater to the needs of this growing and ageing population, capacity of the primary care and community based sectors have to be scaled up to meet this upcoming needs in dementia, a disease identified under the Chronic Disease Management Programme.  Speakers shared on their experience of diagnosing and managing patients with dementia in a polyclinic setting, individualization of assessment and behavioural interventions, and possible ways to increase social interactions between patients with dementia and their caregivers.

Breakout Session 2:  Wellness and Resilience (Jon)
Speakers:  Ms Angie Chew, Dr Chan Keen Loong

The first half of the session was presented by Ms Angie Chew from the Brahm Centre who shared on mindful speech and communication.  How often do you find yourself offending others without realizing?  Or have said something in a fit of anger?  A really cool quote that was shared highlighted how emotions will pass, but words spoken and the damage they do can sometimes stay long after the emotions have gone.  Don’t worry though, I’ll share with you 4 things to ask yourself before speaking, which perhaps you could use in the future to be a more mindful and effective communicator:
Step 1: Is it true?Step 2: Is it beneficial? (Why say something that is not going to help others and potentially put you in a bad situation? Unless of course your intention is to offend or cause harm in which case you probably should get some help.)
Step 3: Is this the RIGHT time and place? (Often times we say things with well intentions but when and where we say it can often cause the words to have an opposite effect. For example, pointing out a teacher’s mistake in front of the class can often have negative consequences, as I have good cause to know)
Step 4: Choice of tone and words (This may seem like common sense but if we’re not mindful of it, there are times we may not notice the tone and choice of words we use and it may come out differently from how we think it to be)
The next part of the session by Dr Chan Keen Loong from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital was really funny and interesting, but yet informative.  He shared on an indirect approach to communicating with youths.  So what is this indirect approach?  Basically it involves a less directive approach (e.g. "You should be doing this" or "Don’t do this"), and allows the youths to process for themselves what you are trying to tell them.  By doing so, the youths will become less defensive and yet be able to see things from your point of view.  I will now share an analogy he shared that I think really stood out to me and is a good example of how this indirect approach can work wonders if used properly.
In dealing with a depressed male who had been dumped by his girlfriend, and who kept ruminating (rethinking negative thoughts over and over again) on how his ex-girlfriend could not see any good in him; instead of what most adults/peers would tell him to do, like “just get over her”, or “she is not good enough for you”.  Dr. Chan shared an analogy with him instead:
A story about a farmer who found a rock with a huge piece of jade within, but this rock looked like a rock on the outside but being the experienced farmer, he knew it was something precious.  This farmer wanted to give this precious piece of rock to the emperor of China.  One day as the emperor was making his rounds in the city the farmer stood by the road side and offered this piece of rock to the emperor.  Upon seeing it, the emperor was furious and order the farmers left leg be chopped off for insulting the emperor of China.  However, the man did not give up and still wanted to give the rock to the emperor, so the following year, he appeared at the same spot and hobbling on his right leg, offered the rock to the emperor again.  The emperor got angry once again and ordered the man’s right leg be chopped off this time.  It should be noted this was a time of war and this emperor was replaced with a new one that same year.  Not wanting to give up, for the third time the man decided to offer his rock to the new emperor as he was making his rounds (how the man with no legs managed to reach the road is beyond me).  This new emperor looked at the rock for a moment and took up his sword and swung it at the man.  Instead of striking the man like the previous emperor probably would have, the sword struck the rock which split open, revealing the most beautiful piece of jade that had ever been discovered which the emperor gladly received and carved into the imperial seal of China and gave a handsome reward to the farmer.
When Dr Chan had finished, the depressed male thought about it for a moment before realizing what Dr Chan was talking about, but eventually was able to see things from a different perspective and move on with his life.  This analogy really showed me a new way of communicating and perhaps an even more effective way.  No one likes being directed so maybe putting your point across in such a way could really work wonders especially for youths who are in their “rebel” phase of life.

Breakout Session 3:  Starting a Family: A New Mother’s Perspective (Gretchen)
Speaker:  Dr Cornelia Chee, Ms Jasmine Yeo and Ms Alicia Lim

It was rather odd for me to go for this talk as I was not a new mother or even close to getting married anytime soon.  However, I always wondered what mothers go through before and during their pregnancy.  The talk started off with Dr Chee introducing perinatal anxiety such as panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and how mothers have repeated thoughts of things happening to their baby.  This perinatal anxiety would affect the bonding that the mother would have with the baby such as the mother having regrets on being pregnant which is irreversible but with therapy, the mother would be able to have more confidence in themselves to provide for the baby and have more stability in their mental health.
Ms Yeo then touched on parent-infant interventions using the circle of security approach.  The key for parents is to be strong and kind while knowing when to encourage their child to go out and explore the world, and to be available to welcome them back into their hands when they are in times of needs.  Parents should ask themselves what their child’s behaviour is telling them, as a need for attention would mean a need for emotional connection.  Children feel secure in their emotional connectedness with their parents.
Ms Lim talked about the Touchpoint approach where the goal of this approach was to have optimal child development, healthy and functional families, and strong communities.  Development consists of regressions, bursts and pauses where regression in a child’s behaviour would cause disorganization for parents.  However it should not be taken negatively as disorganization would provide an opportunity for providers to connect with the parents.  Touchpoints are the predictions of periods of regression and disorganizations that occur before bursts in a child’s development.
Through this session, I learnt that there is so much more to know about becoming a parent more than just having a child and bringing them up.  The approaches mentioned are aimed to educate parents and intervene when parent-infant interaction is at risk of derailment.

Breakout Session 4:  Creating an Inclusive Workplace (Cho Ming Xiu)
Speakers:  Mr Kent Teo, Mr Vincent Budiharjo, Mr Tan Wen Xiang, Ms Low Wan Ve

The highlight of this session was to know that the social service sector and employers of major companies in Singapore are taking active steps in making the workplace a more inclusive environment for people with mental illnesses.  MINDSET Learning Hub, which is a new initiative by the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and Jardine Matheson Group of companies will be up and running in July 2016.  This new centre will provide customised vocational training in the cleaning, hospitality, healthcare support, retail, and food & beverage industries for clients with mental health illnesses.  Mr Tan mentioned that the clients will be taught soft skills such as resume writing, managing job interviews and work etiquette.  Graduates from the vocational training stint will go on to take up internships lasting three to six months at companies in the respective industries.  Those who perform competently will then be hired.
Mr Budihardjo mentioned that employment is a key part of the re-integration process back into the community.  It also gives the clients a sense of purpose and confidence as they perform in their work environment.  Mr Teo also stated that this new move will create more job opportunities in the employment market for persons with mental illness.  However, he said that most of the jobs that were available for the clients were for blue collar workers.  He hopes that in the future, as the initiative gains more traction, people with mental illnesses would also be able to take on white collar jobs as they attain higher educational qualifications.
Personally, as a social work student, I am heartened to know that social service organizations and employers are churning out great programmes such as the MINDSET Learning Hub in creating job opportunities for people with mental illnesses.  It is definitely one step closer in helping the clients to reintegrate back into the community and creating an inclusive workplace in Singapore!

Breakout Session 5:  Importance of an Integrated Care Community (Abstract Information from Programme Book)
Speakers:  Dr Kelvin Ng, Ms Hannah Lew

This session features an innovative approach in bringing all stakeholders together to explore and co-create solutions in order to support people with mental health issues in the community.  While some live well with good community support, there are those whose symptoms go undetected and others who are at risk of developing issues.  With a more network-centric approach which showcases the various roles of partners, the community hopes to raise awareness, promote early detection and recognition of mental health conditions, as well as provide necessary support for the affected individuals and their families.  This network also emphasises on the collaboration and integration of both the social and healthcare sectors.  Speakers in this session shared their experience in attempting to build an inclusive society through strengthening community support and improving information flow.  Additionally, ways to develop successful networks and cultures that enabled people with mental health conditions to stay connected and live well within the community were also shared.

Breakout Session 6:  Arts in Mental Health (Gretchen)
Speakers:  Ms Ong Chui Ngoh (Art Therapist), Mrs Sharmini Winslow (Experiential Therapist), Ms Deborah Chen (Art Therapist) and Mr Tan Choon Heng

This session was really interesting because it touched on how art is a form of therapy to an individual.  When words are unable to describe how they feel, art forms such as drawing or acting it out would enable individuals to express themselves.  The therapeutic alliance allows the art therapist to take a peek into the client’s world.  Art is a creative tool that helps them to explore and their art work contain many difficult feelings experienced.  During the session, volunteers acted out a drama of a troubled man, and through that drama, the participant sees whatever has happened to him from an outside point of view and those acting together would be able to relate to him.  Mr Tan, who has been in art therapy since 2011 shared with us how pointillism helped him with his mental illness.  Pointillism is dotting to create an artwork and each dot represents mindfulness.  Mr Tan also showed pictures of his own artwork (shown below).  I enjoyed this session a lot as there were a lot of interaction with the audience and it gives people different options for therapy.

Breakout Session 7:  Roles and Perspectives of the Family in the Caregiving Journay and Mental Wellness - Building Bonds and Resilience in the Social Sector (Cho Ming Xiu)
Speakers: A/Prof Marcus Yu-Lung Chiu, Dr Vincent Ng, Mdn Hajjah Rehana

In this session, A/Prof Marcus Chiu shared his experience and wealth of knowledge in reaching out to more than 6000 caregivers through his Family Link Family Education programme in caregiving, and many whom have become active advocates in South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.  One of the key highlights that he shared was his involvement in the first city-wide stigma study on mental health and many related research studies in Hong Kong.
Dr Vincent Ng also highlighted the importance of the family in the caregiving journey and the impact of collaborative efforts to bridge social and health care issues in Singapore as he believes that such partnerships can create a positive and lasting social impact in our community.  
One of the major highlights of the session was the personal sharing by Mdm Rehana, 68.  Her powerful testimony as the main caregiver for her husband, whom is currently bed-bound due to a complex spinal injury sustained from an accident in 2010 has touched many of the audiences.  Mdm Rehana has been carrying out her husband’s wishes based on his Advance Care Plan and looking into his complex care needs.  She also reaches out to other caregivers who face similar plights through her involvement as a volunteer in caregiver support programmes at various hospitals.  Going the extra mile, this selfless lady does home visits to share her journey and offer fellow caregivers a shoulder to lean on.
Mdm Rehana’s personal testimony really moved me, and it has reminded me the resiliency of the human spirit and the selfless acts of sacrificing can be found in everyday heroes like herself.

Breakout Session 8:  Mental Wellness at the Workplaces - It can be done, and here’s the Proof! (Jon)
Speakers: Mr Michael Kuan, Ms Rachel Wong, Mr Frank Ong

The next session I attended was one on how workplaces can be more adaptive to try and suit the needs of their employees better.  It involved professional such as Mr Michael Kuan from ELITE translations, Ms Rachel Wong from Panduit Singapore, and Mr Frank Ong from the Institute of Mental Health.  They shared with us various practices that their companies have established to help create a more employee centric environment which caters to the individual needs and with a greater focus on the mental well-being of each employee.  For example, working from home or other special working arrangements that can be made to better suit an individual’s needs.  This actually helps the employee feel more empowered and that the company actually cares for them, which in turn allows them to achieve their greatest potential.  Indeed, in the fast paced life of the current Singaporean, I think that knowing there are companies out there who are paving the way for more of such programmes to be implemented is a great source of comfort.  Imagine being able to work from home, or being asked to go home to take care of your kids instead of coming in to work.  It seems like we could one day achieve a better work life balance if more companies follow their lead. 

To be continued in Part 2...

From left to right: Joanne Gan (Nursing Student), Jonathan Kuek - Post Contributor (James Cook University, Singapore), Gretchen Lim - Post Contributor (James Cook University, Singapore), Cho Ming Xiu - Post Contributor (Singapore Institute of Management University)
About the writers:
Jon is a 3rd year psychology student in James Cook University (Singapore).  Learning is his passion and he hopes to one day educate the next generation of psychology students.  He has interests in many fields of psychology, in particular social and clinical psychology.  In his free time, Jon volunteers at the Institute of Mental Health and is constantly looking for new volunteers to join him on his adventure to serve the mentally ill who are staying at the hospital.  Do contact him at if you would be interested in helping them too!
Gretchen is a 2nd year psychology student in James Cook University (Singapore).  She has interests in the field of counselling psychology and hopes to destigmatize mental illnesses in students.  In her spare time, she volunteers for Institute of Mental Health and enjoys travelling.  If you need to contact her, you can email her at
Ming Xiu is currently pursuing his Bachelor in Social Work under the Singapore Institute of Management University (UniSIM) Scholarship.  He is deeply passionate about mental health advocacy and believes in the power of peer empowerment in helping youths with mental health issues towards their road to recovery.  He has worked with youths-at-risk whom were under juvenile probation together with their families and believes that every youth can be a successful story.  He also volunteers with the Institute of Mental Health regularly with Jon and a group of like-minded individuals whom have the heart for persons with mental health issues.  If you need to contact him, you can email him at 
Hakim is a counsellor with ClubHeal, an organization set up by a group of like-minded individuals who have a strong passion in helping people with mental illness and their family members lead a fulfilling and stigma-free life.  ClubHeal runs a psychiatric rehabilitation day care service in which psycho-education and supportive counselling to persons with mental illness and their families are provided.  They also provide outreach programs to them and the general public.  To contact Hakim, you can email him at