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Grace days, more academic support among recommendations in report on undergraduates' mental health

Grace days, more academic support among recommendations in report on undergraduates' mental health

File photo of a man sitting on steps. (Photo: Try Sutrisno Foo)

SINGAPORE: A mental health survey of undergraduates from five autonomous universities in Singapore found that three in four respondents want increased support for their academics. 

This could include the introduction of grace days, or allowable delays beyond a specified deadline for all assignments. 

The survey, conducted by the inter-university network, saw 470 respondents across the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), Singapore Management University (SMU) and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). 

The inter-university network released the results of the survey in the UCare Mental Health Report on Tuesday (Jun 21), alongside recommendations to better support the mental health and well-being of undergraduates. 

Insights from the survey will be shared with the autonomous universities to “guide the policy direction and derive recommendations” for the participating universities and Singapore as a whole, the report read. 

Speaking at the inter-university network UCare mental health forum on Tuesday, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong noted the impact of COVID-19 and "the fast pace of life" on mental well-being and stressors. 

A National Youth Council poll between February and October 2021 found that one in five youths reported poor or very poor mental well-being, he noted. 

"Key stressors for youth included uncertainty about their future and concern about work-life balance and concern that with safe management measures, they are unable to take part in real-life classroom settings," said Mr Tong.

There was also concern about a disconnect with friends, peers and colleagues as well as concern that they might not be able to adapt to the working world when they come out of school, he added. 

FEARFUL OF STIGMA

The study also found that 49 per cent of undergraduates surveyed prefer to address mental health issues on their own, even though there is “a high awareness” of the avenues of support in their universities.

About one in five respondents said they feared those around them would judge them if they used the professional avenues of help provided in universities and student-led initiatives, the report added. 

“While undergraduates were fearful of being stigmatised and judged for seeking mental health support, nearly every respondent was willing to lend a hand to someone who needed support or was in distress,” said the inter-university network in a press release on Tuesday. 

“This finding identifies a potential area for stakeholders within the mental health space to invest educational efforts in empowering youths to create a culture of care and self-compassion in their communities.”

The report also recommended that academic boards could allow students “greater autonomy” in planning their academic pathways each semester. 

This would allow students to manage their assignment loads and deadlines by choosing modules that “match their bandwidth”, said the inter-university network.

The survey found that undergraduates feel that there is a “deep-seated and unhealthy obsession” with grades, because employers maintain that academic grades are still the primary indicator used to screen candidates for hire, the report read. 

“Students may feel that they have to perform well academically to get their ‘foot through the door’. This has inevitably led to the amplification of students’ stresses during the course of their education,” said the inter-university network in the report. 

“Unfortunately, such stress leads to the joy of learning often diminishing within this highly competitive environment, and students primarily focus on chasing grades and outdoing their peers instead of enjoying the process of learning,” it added, calling for a review of the curriculum, grading systems and mental health resources. 

“This hectic pace of education, coupled with the reduced joy of learning has led to the rise of multiple mental stressors within the education climate.” 

Faculty educators should also be trained to identify “risky behaviours” and signs of mental stress, said the network in the press release. 

About one in three respondents said there was a lack of information on student-led initiatives and workshops on self-care and mental wellness on campus, the press release read. 

The report noted that more efforts in publishing and planning student-led initiatives could alleviate the oversubscribed counselling services offered in universities.

WHOLE OF SOCIETY ISSUE

The Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being was set up in July 2021 to oversee and coordinate "cross-cutting" national mental health issues, said Mr Tong. 

"We did that because we recognise that this is not a health or education issue, but really a whole of society issue, and so we set up something that allows us to look across different spectrums of society," he added. 

The Taskforce has developed preliminary recommendations to enhance the mental health and well-being of Singaporeans, and the public consultation to seek the public's views on the recommendations is ongoing until Aug 7, said Mr Tong. 

Parties interested in contributing their thoughts and suggestions can do so via the REACH website.

With increasing digitalisation and greater connectivity, people are "a lot more efficient" and can be "bouncing from meetings to meetings", said Mr Tong. 

"However, all these have a toll on our mental well-being, and the demands of our day-to-day life. Yet, at the same time we are also exposed to the threat of online harms, including mental and emotional harm." 

A total of 67 per cent of Singaporean youths have experienced online harms, including being insulted and impersonated, he noted. 

"As such, in this context today, mental health issues will remain a key concern for some time to come. We must continue to support citizens, including youths, as they journey through this," said Mr Tong, who is also Second Minister for Law. 

"The hustle culture, where we strive to get the best jobs, get the best outcomes, get the best grades, get the best everything – early signs of stressors start at a young age.

"This happens because there is not enough mental maturity to process information, but at the same time, they are learning about the world in such a fashion. All of these are factors that lend to that culture and environment."

Source: CNA/hw
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