Charity aims to make mental healthcare more accessible to children, youth

SINGAPORE – With the number of suicide cases among youth in Singapore hitting a record high in 2021, a new charity seeks to make mental healthcare more accessible to them and provide crisis intervention in times of need.

Ms Nicole Pang, 25, was sparked into action when a social worker told her about his experience with children as young as 10 experiencing suicidal ideation, and youth having access to drugs or experiencing extreme social reclusion.

She and some friends piloted Project Cope and crisis response initiative Imna under charity Impart in 2020. Since its launch, more than 150 children and youth have been served across its mental health programmes.

Ms Pang, head of the mental healthcare arm at Impart, said there has been an increase in the number of cases over the years, and its waiting list has risen significantly over the last few months.

She added that the charity, which has more than 250 volunteers across all its operations, has seen more cases related to suicide, self-harm-related struggles and extreme social reclusion.

The number of suicides among young people aged 10 to 29 in Singapore hit a record 112 in 2021, up by 11 from the year before.

The Samaritans of Singapore told The Straits Times in July that its crisis hotline logged a 127 per cent spike in calls from youth aged 10 to 19 from 2020 to 2021.

Under Imna, volunteers build relationships with the youth, and act as a first line of response when they feel troubled.

Ms Pang said the children or youth feel psychologically safer to reach out to volunteers directly for support once they have established a positive relationship.

If a person expresses an urge to self-harm, the team will find out key details to assess the situation – like location, intensity of emotions and whether he or she is alone.

A staff member, called a youth advocate, will try to intervene through calls or text messages, but if ineffective, will send a member of the crisis team to the location to help the person.

Once the latter is safe, the caregivers are briefed on what to look out for and the team will check in with the person the next day.

But if safety cannot be attained or if the person is uncontactable during the initial intervention, the team will make the decision to break confidentiality and call an ambulance, or inform the police, for example.

Youth advocate Mohammed Narish Mohamed Noh, 22, was inspired to join the sector after getting tutoring help from the charity while completing his N levels as a private candidate.