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Empowering youths to support each other in overcoming life’s challenges.
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To tackle the rise of suicides among young people in Singapore, non-profit organisation Impart has set up SYNC, a network of youth volunteers to support their peers who are dealing with mental health challenges. By training them in stress management strategies and crisis response, this youth-centric organisation wants to empower young people to build a community-based support system that makes mental health support available and accessible to all.
“I’ve had my own mental health journey, and it was especially difficult in those times,” shares Jasthina Bte Jamaludin (Jas), a 23-year-old psychology undergraduate.
It was her personal experience dealing with self-harm and suicidal tendencies that led her to volunteer with SYNC (Strengthening Youths in a Network of Care), the mental health arm of Impart. Started in 2015, Impart is a non-profit organisation in Singapore that trains and equips youth volunteers in healthy stress management strategies and peer support. Its goal is to build a community of young people who can care for and journey with each other in dealing with issues of mental health.
“I know how hard it can feel to be alone,” discloses Jas, referring to her struggles with depression when she was in secondary school. “And how important having support, the right company and proper coping skills can be at that point in your life.”
With suicide being the leading cause of death for those between ages 10 to 29 in Singapore, the youth-centric organisation hopes to make mental health services easily available and accessible to this group of people, especially marginalised and under-represented at-risk youths, who may have difficulties in getting counselling and psychotherapy services because of costs and other reasons.
Impart works closely with social service organisations, volunteer welfare groups and their community partners for referrals. Currently, they are serving youths between 10 to 24 years old who are facing adversities such as peer pressure in school, financial difficulties, domestic violence and homelessness.
Many of Impart’s volunteers are psychology students eager to put their knowledge into practice to help other youths. Impart trains them and other volunteers in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy which can help with emotional regulation, coping with stress, and relationship issues. Self-harm and suicidal ideation are also some of the self-destructive behaviours that Impart volunteers often encounter.
To help youths deal with emotional distress, Impart volunteers teach their clients coping techniques such as visualisation, expressive art, breathing exercises as well as taking cold showers to increase clarity and mental alertness. However, the most important service that the volunteers provide is one of companionship.
Being a volunteer with Impart for more than a year, Jas has journeyed with youths from all walks of life, lending her support and skills to at-risk youths in Singapore as a befriender.
When engaging a young girl who has thoughts of suicide, Jas uses drawing as a way of helping her to express the difficult emotions that she is going through and to use it as a method of coping.
“Beyond that, we also try to create a safe place in her mind for her. Somewhere she can feel comfortable, safe and relaxed, and where other stressors of the world cannot get to her,” Jas explains.
Acknowledging one’s pain and sadness - no matter how bad it may seem at the moment - is an important part of the process of learning to manage emotions. Often, Jas encourages her clients to “ride the wave of all the difficult feelings”, while reminding them that they had successfully navigated through it before, and they will be able to ride out this wave too.
Remember to take a breather. Here’s a link to hotlines in your region, if you need it.
Youth suicides in Singapore have increased 37.5% in the past year, fuelled in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. Impart has also seen a steady rise in the number of referrals and crisis cases during this period.
Their volunteers are on always standby to respond to young people in a crisis, either from the possibility of self-harm, suicide, or being in any situation where their lives are in danger. Their goal is to stabilise them and ensure their safety within 24 hours.
“One of the biggest things about suicide is that we can never really expect when it will happen,” Jas shares. “So, as soon as we notice a possible warning sign, it is important for us to open the conversation about it.”
As someone who has personally felt the sense of isolation that is associated with those who experience suicidal ideation, Jas’ advice to them is to not be afraid to seek help. “Ultimately, you are not alone. You are never truly alone. There are people out there who want to help you, and will help you if you give them the chance to be there for you.”
“My biggest goal is always going to be just to help at least one person - to help them get through a difficult time in their life, to let them know that they are not alone, and to help them feel like they can help themselves.”
Juggling between her undergraduate studies and volunteering is no easy feat. Jas confesses that there were times when she felt overwhelmed too. Yet, the desire to help others and the support from other Impart volunteers kept her going.
“My supervisors have been very understanding from the get-go,” she shares. “They understand the need to have the space to look after our own mental health, and they give me the time to recharge and to return stronger.”
Seeing even the smallest progress and positive change in her clients deeply encourages her in the work that she does. And when the youths are able to build a safe place for themselves and connect meaningfully to others, “It really makes the whole thing worth it.”
Director & Editor
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