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A wellness ecosystem for the young

Changi General Hospital’s (CGH) outreach programme for youths and educators aims to build a supportive school environment for students with mental health struggles.

14-year-old Abigail used to be an outgoing girl in school, but over the past few months, her classmates noticed a change in her. She was withdrawn, easily fatigued and had lost interest in her favourite K-pop dance activity. Her teachers also observed that she could not concentrate in class and had difficulty keeping up with her school assignments.

Fortunately, her friends informed their form teacher, who then checked in with Abigail. Abigail agreed to discuss her struggles — which arose from a strained relationship with her parents — and accepted the intervention of the school counsellor. This led to the eventual decision by Abigail and her parents to seek medical help at CGH.

Had it not been for her friends and teachers who spotted the red flags, Abigail’s condition could have gone undetected. Recognising the important role that schools play as an additional support system, a team of CGH adolescent mental health experts kickstarted the Youth Outreach Programme, known as YoOP!

YoOP! is designed to further support students, educators and counsellors in schools to improve mental health literacy, dispel myths on mental illness and equip them with skillsets to identify and support their peers who are at risk.

At CGH, a multi-disciplinary team comprising psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists and medical social workers work with youngsters like Abigail to understand their symptoms, diagnose their condition and provide personalised treatment plans.

As Abigail was assessed to have moderate to severe depression, her treatment plan involved a combination of medication and therapy. Contrary to the belief that medications may change the patient’s personality or dull the senses, they actually improve most symptoms of depression such as overwhelming sadness, loss of enjoyment, low energy and poor concentration, and help the young person return to their usual self. For mild depression, therapy alone may be offered first. Every patient has slightly different circumstances and hence treatment will be customised accordingly.

Most adolescents progress well in their recovery journeys with treatment and support from their families, school and mental health professionals. Abigail took an extended break from school as her low moods and energy levels, and loss of interest made it challenging for her to keep up with academic and CCA demands. Since Abigail’s diagnosis six months ago, her condition has seen improvement and the CGH care team is working towards supporting her gradual return to school.

Easing them back to school, with the aid of teachers and school counsellors, is an important step as these students often experience a loss of confidence or feel self-conscious about repeating the year. By generating more conversations on mental health and the understanding of mental health conditions through YoOP!, more schools will be able to support the academic as well as the emotional needs of students like Abigail as she recovers from depression and continues on her journey of growth.

“Through the YoOP! Programme, CGH hopes to shape the way mental health is perceived by students, staff and parents. These interventions also encourage our youths to start the conversation about mental wellness, support their peers and develop compassion for those with mental health conditions.”

Clinical Assistant Professor Cheryl Loh,
Chief and Senior Consultant, Department of Psychological Medicine, CGH


“We hope to support the creation of a psychologically safe environment in school for at-risk students and students recovering from depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders and other mental health conditions, while complementing existing mental health initiatives in schools.”

Dr Tabitha Mok, Consultant,
Department of Psychological Medicine, CGH



Discussing mental health with your children

By Clinical Assistant Professor Cheryl Loh, Chief & Senior Consultant, Department of Psychological Medicine, Changi General Hospital

Keep an open mind and look out for symptoms.

Mental illnesses are usually multifactorial in cause, such as genetics, family environment, social situation and life stressors. It helps when parents are aware of mental illnesses so that they keep an open mind when discussing a child’s problems.

How to tell if my child is stressed, feeling anxious or depressed?

Stress is an umbrella term for all the physical and psychological reactions experienced when they experience increased demands. While symptoms may overlap with anxiety and depression, the key difference is noting the severity and how much it affects your child.

Feeling miserable after a tiff with a friend is an understandable reaction, but if your child starts talking about being useless, hopeless or suicidal, it is a cause for concern.

How can I educate my child to feel safe in coming to me for help?

It is important to spend time regularly to listen to your child, and engage in meaningful conversations to gain a full picture of how he or she is doing. This encourages your child to open up about his or her difficulties and fears. Some children may find it difficult to describe emotional problems and may respond with “don’t know” or “never mind”. Allow them to carry on talking about their feelings, and refrain from interrogating or going into problem-solving mode.

When should I bring my child to a psychiatrist?

The decision to seek medical attention is based on many factors, such as severity of the symptoms and their impact on daily functioning. Parents may wish to discuss the situation with adults familiar with their child, such as other older siblings, teachers, school or family service centre counsellors, or even a familiar family doctor.

A wellness ecosystem for the young