Online counselling for young people who need help
Sandy (not her real name) began self-harming when she was in Secondary 1 and was referred to the school counsellor after a teacher saw her scars.
Promised confidentiality, Sandy shared her feelings and the issues she was facing with the counsellor. To her dismay, her parents were informed about what she had confided to her counsellor.
Her parents were worried about their daughter getting a permanent record if she sought help at the Institute of Mental Health, and did not allow her to get the help she needed.
In 2019, at the age of 19, and six years after she started self-harming, Sandy made a plan to end her life. She confided in a friend, who referred her to Limitless, a non-profit organisation that provides mental health services to those aged 12 to 25.
Sandy received counselling from the group and is no longer at risk of taking her own life. She is now pursuing a degree in psychology.
Social workers who spoke to The Straits Times said younger people may have reservations about getting help, as they fear that their parents may not understand and may react badly if they found out.
Founder of Limitless Asher Low said young people often have the lowest access to treatment or mental health services. They may fear that others could find out about their needs, be unable to pay for services and get stopped by parents who may be abusive or dismissive of mental health issues.
Those under the age of 18 who are receiving mental health services from social service agencies need parental consent to be referred elsewhere for other treatment, in line with guidelines from the authorities, said social workers.
Limitless runs a server on Discord, which allows users to speak to counsellors while maintaining anonymity. Discord is an international social platform used by young people to chat.
The server, named Safehouse, provides a listening ear for children aged 13 and above, in line with Discord’s minimum age limit for users.
In 2021, 928 young people contacted Limitless for help via its mental health helpline and counselling services, up from 373 in 2020. The charity’s Discord server has about 664 members.
Youth-run group I’m Friendly Co runs a website for young people aged 16 to 35 to seek counselling anonymously.
Users can visit the website and choose an alias before requesting to chat with a trained peer supporter. Before volunteers can become a peer supporter, they undergo training based on a curriculum crafted with the advice of psychologists and counsellors.
They are trained in areas such as active listening, exercising empathy and navigating conversations by the People’s Association Youth Movement and Caregivers Alliance Limited, and are able to handle all cases, including the more serious and urgent ones.
Chief executive of I’m Friendly Co Jedaiah Chen said the team wanted to bridge the gaps in the mental health landscape as many of them had experienced its shortcomings first-hand.
He added: “We set out to be a listening ear for those who hurt in silence. We set out to create a community and platform that is both authentic and approachable.”
Financial consultant Sayed Isyak, who has a 14-year-old son, said that while he would prefer his child confide in him, he understands that it may not be easy.
“Of course, it would feel more reassuring to know exactly how my son is feeling and in what ways I can help him. But, if he prefers to talk to someone else about it, I’m just glad at least he is getting some sort of help in whatever way he feels comfortable,” he said.
“Even I felt awkward talking about my feelings with my parents when I was a kid, so I wouldn’t blame my son if he feels the same way now.”
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