Timed to perfection, Duke-NUS’ Programme in Health Services & Systems Research (HSSR), Centre for Ageing Research & Education (CARE), Lien Centre for Palliative Care (LCPC), and Human Resources (HR) department jointly organised a Mental Health Awareness Day webinar, which was held on 19 May just as many people embarked on another round of working from home.

During the event, the more than 150-strong audience of staff heard from a range of experts from Duke-NUS, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and the National University of Singapore (NUS). The experts offered advice on work stress management, creating a community of support and highlighted the many resources available to the community.

The webinar commenced with a welcome address by Duke-NUS Dean Professor Thomas Coffman, who emphasised that mental health awareness is important, especially during these trying times.              

“It’s been over a year since we went into the Circuit Breaker,” he said. “And certainly, dealing with these continuous events affecting every part of our lives is stressful.”

Prof Coffman added that results from a study conducted by the HSSR team found that nearly a quarter of Singaporeans, mostly younger people and people with chronic conditions, reported moderate to severe anxiety during the pandemic. To better cope with such stresses, Prof Coffman urged greater resilience. But we cannot “cultivate resilience by ourselves”, he stressed. Instead, we should draw on the resources and support that are always available for staff who need it, said Prof Coffman before handing the virtual stage to Professor Marcus Ong.

Reflecting on his personal experiences over the past year, Prof Ong, Director of HSSR, talked about the various impacts COVID-19 has had on mental wellbeing. He spoke about four values, namely “courage”, “resilience”, “hope” and “purpose”, which he suggested everyone adopt to better cope individually and as a community in the days ahead.

To better understand the demographics and the mental state of the audience, the moderator of the event, Assistant Professor Sharon Sung, from HSSR Programme and Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, conducted an audience poll which gave insights on the current situation. Asst Prof Sung analysed the responses and emphasised to the audience to use the tips that were shared by the assembled experts to support each other and instil hope and faith despite the evolving situation.

Dr Charmaine Lim, Wellbeing Specialist Partner from the Office of President at NUS, spoke about the various health and wellbeing resources and services available to NUS (including Duke-NUS) staff, including “Wellbeing Specialist Partner” and “NUS Heart” which offer consultations, workshops, and counselling services.

To develop mutual care in the workplace, Ms Emily Tan, Peer Support Lead at the SingHealth Staff Counselling Centre, shared how we can multiply our efforts in promoting a culture of care by looking out for each other and seeking professional help where needed. Ms Tan said that following the steps of “recognise”, “act” and “refer” can help people look out for each other at the workplace. And she encouraged everyone to embrace “the practice of asking twice”.

Rounding up the session, Dr Kinjal Doshi, Principal Clinical Psychologist at SGH, shared more about managing work stress and burnout outside of work. She highlighted the significance of building self-awareness, self-care and self-compassion. Dr Doshi reminded everyone to embrace themselves with kindness and care and to always remember that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

In her closing remarks, Asst Prof Sung reiterated the importance of taking time off for ourselves during the challenging times ahead and the uncertainties of the future.