Reaching out for help is sign of strength not weakness: Chan Chun Sing
Education Minister calls on public not to stigmatise those who come forward to seek help
A society-wide effort is needed to prevent tragic incidents like the death of the River Valley High School student from happening again, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing told Parliament yesterday.
He highlighted the need for a community safety net for everyone - especially young people - and encouraged people to look within their social circles for a start.
"Reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness," said Mr Chan, as he appealed to the public to not stigmatise those who come forward to seek help - be they students, staff, parents or families.
"Let this incident motivate all of us to take down our barriers and treat struggling individuals who step forward with care and compassion," he told the House.
The minister also gave a brief rundown on the series of events that unfolded on Monday last week when a 16-year-old boy allegedly killed a 13-year-old male schoolmate with an axe in the school toilet.
The debate on his ministerial statement saw 15 MPs speaking up from both sides of the House and flagging issues such as whether there were sufficient counselling resources in school, how the stigma around mental health struggles could be reduced, and teachers equipped to look out for signs of distress in their students.
In his speech, Mr Chan called on families to spend more time listening to the thoughts and feelings of their children, letting them share what they find stressful and giving them space to process their emotions.
Sharing his own experience as a parent, Mr Chan said: "We can have more frank conversations with our children and families on the definition of success.
"As a parent myself, I have come to realise that success must be defined by helping my children realise their own potential, developing their own strengths and helping them to be confident in themselves."
The greatest assurance parents can give their children is to give them the confidence to find their own way, he said.
Mr Chan also called on the public to break "vicious cycles of negativity" by standing up for others and responding with grace and compassion.
"We can stop toxic conversations online and amplify messages of strength, care and positivity through our online networks instead," he said.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) will strengthen its partnership with parents through parent support groups, he said.
Meanwhile, MOE will continue supporting the school community, including the affected families, while monitoring the well-being of students from other schools.
Mr Chan said the Health Ministry and Ministry of Social and Family Development have set up an inter-agency task force to develop an overarching plan to address mental health and well-being.
Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer) asked if MOE would take note of students who are seeking psychiatric treatment at public and private hospitals and clinics so that educators may be better prepared to support them.
Mr Chan said MOE respects the patient confidentiality of students who seek help, but if the Home Affairs and Health ministries assess that a distressed individual could pose a threat to the community, the authorities will work with partners to manage the situation.
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