By Mr Tan Khye Suan, Executive Director

Recently, in my interaction with some children and youths, and their parents, the issue of mental health of young persons came to my attention.  Let me share a few stories:

1.  A few months ago, a teenager who was preparing for his A Level examinations asked to see me.  He just found out that his friend had committed suicide a day before.  His friend did not seem unhappy or depressed in the days leading up to the suicide and was behaving normally.  The teenager wanted to know what could have happened and triggered his friend to commit suicide.  He was very distraught and it affected his preparations for the impending examinations.

2.  A set of parents spoke to me a few months back.  Their son was in Primary 4 in a mainstream school.  He is diagnosed with mild autism, but is high-functioning.  As they spoke, tears flowed.  Their son was returning from school feeling very sad and lonely.  He told his parents, “I have no friends.  My classmates always laugh at me.  I don’t know why.” They asked me, “Why are the children so cruel to my son?”  Their son is now on medication for depression and hated going to school.

3.  Another set of parents asked me how to deal with their daughter.  She was “stuck” to her mobile phone, day and night.  She spent her waking hours using the mobile phone to chat with her friends, surf the internet and watch videos.  This screen dependency behaviour affected her studies and she stopped going for her school CCA.

All these stories have one thing in common.  They involve mental health well-being.  What is more alarming is that we are hearing these sad stories in increasing frequency.

Today, our children and youths face many pressures and challenges that are quite different from those a decade ago – from parents, their peers as well as technological advances.  We need to help them cope with the fast-moving pace of changes in society.

Perhaps, helping them is not enough.  We must help parents in order that children and youths get the necessary attention, support and love they need at home!  I will elaborate on these points in subsequent articles of this newsletter, Epworth Moments.

In September 2018, we informed readers of the rebranding of our organisation.  As Epworth Community Services, we reclaim our Methodist heritage.  Epworth is the birthplace of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.  John Wesley was known for his passion to address the challenges that society faced in his time; that included poverty, alcoholism and slavery.

As Epworth Community Services, there is a compelling call to help children and youths, and their parents, who are challenged by issues of mental health well-being.  We are already helping children with learning difficulties, developmental challenges and those with various degrees of exposure to trauma.  We will look towards helping parents build strong families that will be able to support children and teenagers as they face the many pressures and challenges in their lives.

­­These words of a Christian hymn constantly ring in my mind:

I, the Lord of sea and sky

I have heard my people cry

All who dwell in dark and sin

My hand will save

I, who made the stars of night

I will make their darkness bright

Who will bear my light to them?

Whom shall I send?

Perhaps, Epworth Community Services need to answer to the urgent cry of the children and youths, and their parents.  We must take concrete steps to render the support they need.  I remember the vision of Isaiah as God spoke to him:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  And I (Isaiah) said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)