A local teenager recently opined that mental illnesses among students in secondary schools and junior colleges (JCs) are underreported and not given enough attention, as she answered a question on Quora about what the dark side of Singapore could be.
Describing herself as a “privileged Singaporean youth suffering from mental illness,” 17-year-old Quora user Ilya Lee shared that she attends the IB programme in a “top school” in Singapore and that she was recently “admitted into IMH’s psychiatric ward (the child ward) for suicide attempts and a history of depressive episodes, due to immense stress from studies among other things.”
Lee said that she feels there are three dark sides to Singapore: the education system, the treatment of people with mental illness, and the social/class divide.
Asserting that there are “a lot of problems and ugliness behind the scenes in Singaporean schools,” Lee cited anecdotal evidence of students struggling with the pressure to perform well and competitiveness as examples of the issues in local schools. She wrote:
“I don’t have exact numbers or statistics, but I can say for a fact that many Singaporean kids are suffering as a result of the toxic competitiveness rampant among parents, schools and the entire education system as well as the pressure to do well for exams.
“It isn’t uncommon to find Singaporean students struggling with clinical depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidal thoughts as a result of stress and studies, especially in the more elite schools. There are even cases of students killing themselves over grades.”
Lee shared that her own brother, a JC student, “killed himself two years ago, partly due to the pressure from my parents to do well.” She added:
“During my time in the ward, I met at least 4 kids from top secondary schools and JCs who either attempted suicide or seriously self harmed as a result of school stress. This probably isn’t surprising for many Singaporeans, but most of these cases rarely reach the media, or even anybody from outside the schools, because the school management/government bodies are very tight lipped about things like this.”
The teenager further said that care for youths with mental illnesses in Singapore is overlooked. Citing the stigma against those with mental illness, Lee shared that her parents did not believe her when she said that she struggles with depression and only took her seriously when she was warded:
“I can’t really speak for older people, but for youths with mental illnesses, help can be hard to find and Singaporeans generally aren’t very accepting of people with mental illnesses. From my personal experience, my parents wouldn’t take me seriously when I told them I might have depression (they just told me I was lazy) and it was very hard, as a youth with untreated depression and no parental support, to find the help I needed.
“I tried many things: contacting government organisations, getting myself therapists sessions with student subsidy (still too expensive to be sustainable), getting antidepressants from the black market, even attempting to administer CBT on myself. Only when I got warded did my parents take me seriously.
“Also, mental illness isn’t something Singaporeans are really comfortable discussing. As mentioned above, many cases I know of kids struggling with serious mental illnesses and family issues are kept under wraps because of the stigma. This seriously prevents people from realising how big of a problem this is in Singaporean schools.”
The student added that healthcare for mental illnesses seem to be “underfunded and underdeveloped” and that this lack of attention stands in stark contrast to the high quality of healthcare in general here. She wrote:
“Most importantly, mental health seems to be a very underfunded and underdeveloped area in Singapore’s healthcare system. This despite the fact that the rest of Singapore’s healthcare system is pretty much stellar. I heard about this from others, but never really understood the seriousness of the problem until my stay in IMH.
“The psychiatrists there seem very overworked, the ward was always filled to near full capacity (there was only one child ward, and people were being discharged way before they were ready to make space for others) and the practices within the ward (ie. physical restraints for even the slightest aggression) were seriously outdated. This really surprised me because I have had nothing but good experiences from hospitals for my physical illnesses from government/non-private hospitals.”
Lastly, Lee added another negative aspect about society in Singapore is the social and class divide.
Sharing that her sheltered upbringing as a “privileged kid” did not give her the chance to mix around with kids from other backgrounds “because of the way the education system is structured,” Ilya wrote that “everybody loses” in a system where people are discriminated against based on their social class:
“Richer kids go to better kindergartens when they are toddlers, elite primary schools, then elite secondary schools. Outside of school, the richer kids would usually have tuition or enrichment classes to occupy their time, which essentially gears them to score better to get into the elite schools.
“The less privileged families cannot afford this kind of special treatment, especially the extra out-of-school lessons and therefore, their kids usually don’t do as well academically, which causes them to go to more average schools.
“As these kids enter the workforce, they are discriminated against based on their qualifications, making it very hard for these less privileged kids to climb the social ladder. These less privileged kids often get involved with gangs, drugs and crime in their youth too.
“Therefore, everybody loses. The privileged kids often live a very sheltered lifestyle, which narrows their worldview and reduces their empathy towards the less privileged and the less privileged kids miss out on opportunities to better their situation. This is a very complex problem to solve.
“It is also worth mentioning that a great number of kids I saw in the child psych ward came from the lower classes and many were struggling with drugs, self harm and suicidal thoughts as a result of their circumstances. I learnt a lot from them, and their multitude of experiences. I never had the chance to meet these kind of kids in my childhood due to my intensely sheltered upbringing.”
Lee’s response received considerable interest and garnered a whopping 115,800 upvotes on Quora. Read her post in full here.