Despite its burgeoning tourist economy and its perception of glamour, wealth and abundance, Singapore is known for having one of the worst mental health epidemics in Southeast Asia. From an overall displeased labor force to a rising suicide rate, it is clear that external factors like the COVID-19 virus and culture have had a large impact on mental health in Singapore. Today, one of the largest cited contributors to mental health globally is an over-reliance on social media. While social media can be a positive space to share mental health challenges, it can also lead to feelings of shame and low self-esteem, which can result in poor educational and academic attainment. Social media can play a unique role in the link between mental health and poverty in Singapore.
Social Media and Mental Health
The correlation between social media usage and poor mental health predictors traditionally found general agreement in the idea that too much social media could lead to anxiety and/or depression. However, recent research from Harvard University indicates that our collective perception of social media as “all bad” may be false. Rather, the study argues that it has to do more with how you use social media and the way you perceive your interactions on and off the platforms. While many have commented on the widespread de-stigmatization of mental health issues as real and equally as important and valid as physical health issues, the Asian stereotype of mental health issues as unimportant or irrelevant still poses a problem for this new generation of Singaporeans.
Singapore and Mental Health
In 2020, “‘The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), a suicide prevention organization, received over 39,000 calls for help – an 18% increase from the year before.” This indicates a rising need for mental health support in Singapore as a result of concerted efforts to isolate during the pandemic. In addition, The Straits Times reported in a 2021 article that seven out of 10 mental health organizations experienced a 20-60% increase in queries and mental health crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, Singapore’s labor force is exhausted. In a study for Milieu Insight, in partnership with Intellect, they found that though Singaporeans tend to work less, they also report the lowest levels of engagement and job satisfaction than their regional counterparts. Beyond engagement and job satisfaction, Singaporeans also rank the highest for negative reports on the average quality of sleep and overall enjoyment of life.
Many of these issues have contributed significantly to the persistent wage gap in Singapore, as they arise before an individual has the chance to establish themselves academically or in a vocation. In Singapore, many of those who suffer from mental illness do not have mental health care from the insurance plan Medishield, and “rely solely on Medifund (a default support mechanism).” Unfortunately, Medifund does not receive adequate funding from taxpayers who are fearful of those with mental illness. Facing discrimination and limited access to health care, those with mental health issues and low income exist in a situation that perpetuates. Additionally, those who suffer from mental health issues can quickly devolve into poverty without adequate support and/or funding.
Singapore Wellness Hub
To combat this, TikTok launched a new Singapore Wellness Hub in honor of World Mental Health Month, which aims to combat anxiety and uncertainty through education and action-oriented solutions. In essence, its focus is on creating safe spaces that allow for community building and the sharing of personal experiences. Launched in October 2021, the platform offers three distinct offerings. Under its ‘Wellness Matters’ section, users can access techniques grounded in positive psychology principles, like breathing or body awareness exercises, relaxation techniques and tips for visualizing safe spaces. Under its ‘Stories’ section, users have the opportunity to share their experiences through the platform’s short-form video capability.
Lastly, under the app’s ‘Support Helpline’ section, users can reach out to various nonprofit organizations, and various helplines like SOS that are easily accessible through the hub. Its impact has been huge and many influencers like Skincarebyhyram, Lewis Howes and Dr. Alex George have found their niches within the Wellness space on TikTok as well, making it a great place for users and content creators alike.
While it may be too soon to determine the effect that TikTok’s new Wellness Hub may have on the status of mental health in Singapore, it is a good first step. As high-traffic platforms like TikTok begin to create spaces on their apps where people find accurate information about mental health and well-being, there exists a collective de-stigmatization of mental health and a fostering of community and belonging. These improve mental health and subsequently lower global poverty rates. Therefore, while there is more work to be done, a coming-together of organizations is a great first step in educating communities where mental health is heavily stigmatized and stereotyped. Addressing the link between mental health and poverty is necessary in combating global poverty rates across the world.
– Julia Shanta