Mental health and well-being have never been more important. The World Mental Health Report, published in 2022 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), reports that mental health conditions are prevalent in all countries, with 1 in 8 people around the world affected by a mental disorder. In Singapore alone, 1 in 7 Singaporeans have experienced a mood or anxiety disorder at least once in their lives. Over the past few years, awareness on mental health has increased amongst the public, aided by social media forums and public figures who openly talk about their struggles with mental health. While there is much work to be done in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health, the path ahead appears promising.
So, what is ‘mental health’? The WHO provides a holistic definition for the term: A state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, to realize their abilities, to learn well and work well, and to contribute to their communities. Mental health is an integral component of health and well-being and is more than the absence of mental disorder. Thus, it is important to acknowledge that the state of our mental health is constantly on a spectrum, and that maintaining good mental health is accessible to everyone.
University life can be demanding. Juggling academics, co-curricular activities (CCAs) and our personal life is not always easy, potentially leading to burnout if we don’t take a moment to press pause and appreciate the present. For students dealing with mental health challenges, the experience can be even more overwhelming. While some situations require professional mental health assistance, simply offering a sympathetic ear can provide significant support to someone going through a rough patch. It is with this in mind that the Peer Student Supporters (PSS) programme was established in NUS in 2018.
University life can be demanding without adequate support.
The Peer Student Supporters, or simply PSS, are a group of students who are trained to offer a listening ear and support peers who are navigating difficult times. They are equipped with the knowledge to guide other students to various resources available on campus. “One thing that sets apart PSS from other mental health groups on campus is that the PSS straddle two roles: that of mental health advocates and that of mental health supporters,” explained Jason Huang, certified counsellor and student advisor to PSS. He added on, “Anybody with a bit of knowledge on mental health can be a mental health advocate but in the case of a mental health supporter, they require training.”
Training indeed is a crucial component of the PSS programme. Towards the middle of every semester, the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) sends out application calls for those interested in joining the OSA Wellness PSS programme. Shortlisted applicants are chosen after a round of interviews to get to know the applicants better. The selected candidates then go on to complete a PSS Design Your Own Course (DYOC). In this course, extending across a semester, students are trained in basic tenets of counselling, mindfulness techniques, and on how to be an effective peer supporter. It is only after the completion of the course that students are able to start their PSS journey. Since the PSS have a direct impact on other students’ lives, it is important that the selection criteria are stringent and robust.
For students who are feeling mentally low, someone who can listen to their concerns without judgment can be a blessing. “I initially didn’t understand why a student would want to talk to an ‘uncertified’ person about mental health struggles. But the truth is that accessing counselling services can seem overwhelming and some students don’t feel ready to take such a big step. I believe that’s where we come in,” voiced Anshika Singh (Y3, Psychology), a new member of the PSS. Although the PSS are not certified mental health professionals, they are trained to be just as supportive and empathetic. “We operate from the belief that students would find their peers more approachable than mental health professionals,” highlighted Jason.
If you would like to speak with a PSS, we highly recommend you go down to UTown! OSA Wellness PSS are stationed at the PitStop located in UTown from Monday to– Friday, 1pm to 5 pm. Another way to reach them is through the uNivUS app where you can chat with the PSS on duty via a chatbot. You can also email OSAcares@nus.edu.sg and they will connect you to a PSS.
The newly inaugurated Pitstop @ UTown is a cosy space for students to unwind and where you can find OSA Wellness PSS to speak with.
What is it like being a PSS? Jason aptly describes the PSS as “wounded healers,” individuals dedicated to helping others while facing their own unique challenges. Bhavya Matta (Y3, Life Sciences), who has been a PSS since last semester, shared her personal growth as a result of joining the programme. She expressed that her experience has taught her to be a more empathetic listener. Bhavya added, “It helped me too, you know. To this day, I like to journal, a skill that I picked up from the PSS DYOC training.”
Kon Yu (Y3, Statistics), a long-time PSS, echoed Bhavya’s sentiments, sharing that he is now much more comfortable talking to strangers. He remarked, “With experience you also learn that as a PSS, students are reaching out to you for a friendly figure to share their concerns with. Sometimes, it is tempting to share all the techniques that we’ve learnt, but often, all they want is for you to listen to them like a friend would.” Kon Yu’s reflection underscores the importance of empathy and companionship in the role of a PSS.
While Kon Yu, Bhavya and Anshika are PSS under OSA Wellness and work at the PitStop in UTown, various faculties have their own PSS programmes and their respective PitStops. The introduction of faculty PitStops at Science, CDE, Dentistry and Law not only aims to enhance accessibility for students but also to provide a more tailored approach to mental wellbeing within each respective faculty.
The PitStop @ UTown was recently inaugurated on 17th August 2023 as part of the Student Life Fair. Located above Starbucks at the Education Resource Centre (ERC), this inviting space offers numerous activities for students to unwind. There is something for everyone here: karaoke, board games, paints and melty beads to name a few. For those who would like to take a nap, there are massage chairs available to do just that! “This is a strictly no work zone,” Kon Yu reminds everyone. Daryl Ong (Y1, Finance) and Jiexi Chen (Y1, Finance), two postgraduate students who were at PitStop when we were visiting, told us that they were enjoying their time thus far at PitStop. Their message to everyone is, “Just come and make new friends. Take a break from studying!” We second that!
The PitStop is a strictly relax-only zone 🙂
Bring your friends along to PitStop!
The PitStop features soundproof pods to enjoy some karaoke or play video games with friends.
The PSS are busy preparing for the semester ahead. Apart from working shifts at PitStop, PSS also host wellness events throughout the semester. NUS students can look forward to a PitStop wellness carnival in October in conjunction with the WellNUS Festival. The PSS have also previously released a series of podcast episodes on mental wellness on campus which you can check out here. You can also stay up to date with their activities by following them on Instagram.
In the sage words of psychologist Carl R. Rogers, “What is most personal is most universal”, and this is what the PSS programme is all about. It can be easy to believe that we are the only ones grappling with setbacks while the rest of the world is moving at full steam. On the contrary, there are many people around us who face their own unique challenges. When you’re open to it, you will discover many ready and willing to assist and stand by you during your journey. Together, we can and will navigate this path!
If you’re interested in becoming an OSA Wellness PSS, they will be opening applications soon. Keep an eye out for it via your student email!
Sending you all some positive mid-semester energy from PitStop!