Peer Student Supporters (PSS) at PitStop@YIH
15 July 2020
In the 2019 Student Life Survey conducted by the Office of Student Affairs (OSA), almost 50% of students polled look towards friends and family members to cope with stress.
With this insight and other supporting data, the Student Wellness unit at OSA has devised a support structure made up of Peer Student Supporter or more fondly known as PSS. The Peer Supporting Peer DYOM – a student-wellness Design Your Own Module (DYOM) initiative with a niche focus on mental wellbeing was formalised in 2019.
For the uninitiated, DYOM falls outside your rigid disciplinary studies, and is a unique experience for you to pursue your interests in mental health awareness, in the context of the NUS student body. As an Unrestricted Elective, this module also offers academic credits.
The outcome of this module is to transform the participant into a PSS, who can be capable of helping out their NUS peers deal with everyday stress and challenges. A trained PSS could provide emotional support and direct those in dire need to professionals for further help.
To gain a better idea of what happens inside this module and the role of a PSS, we reached out to two PSS to find out.
Beverly Low, Year 2, Faculty of Engineering, and Li Wenbo, Year 2 Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), Year 2 give us their insights.
Understanding mental health
Prior to signing up for PSS, both Beverly and Wenbo were unaware of DYOM being a legitimate module in NUS, until they had to enrol in it to further their interests in volunteering for mental wellness.
Wenbo shared his motivation for enrolling in this module – he found talking about mental health ‘an extremely daunting thing to do’ and wanted to use DYOM as a supplement to help bridge this gap.
“I think it was more because of the fear and the pressure that we tend to give ourselves like ‘what if I say something wrong’ or ‘what if I can’t help this person’,” said Wenbo on one of the common misperceptions youth face on understanding mental health.
Beverly echoed similar reasons for having inadequate understanding of mental health and using DYOM to build on her appreciation in this area.
“I was not well versed with mental health knowledge and thought that having mental illness is equivalent to having poor mental health.” She emerged with a better distinction between mental health and illness, calling them ‘two different spectrums’ and the need to promote good mental health.
Sarah Victoria, a second-year FASS student, majoring in psychology, hopes to apply her discipline studies in real-life scenarios. She is training to be a PSS in AY20/21 and hopes for a ‘more inclusive and engaging’ university experience.
“There are a lot of topics that are better shared with friends than family or professionals. Especially in Singapore, where many experiences, in discovering ourselves, can be considered taboo,” she explains. When the stakes are high with authoritative figures like parents, Sarah feels peers are more likely to turn to each other for help in working out their issues together.
Soft skills but not softies
A common skill students have acquired is empathy – the ability to understand where the other side is coming from.
Both Beverly and Wenbo confessed that it was easy to jump into conclusions and focus only on problem solving. The module has helped change that old perspective.
Now, they look for necessary measures that come before searching for solutions to repair struggling mental states.
Beverly said: “More often than not, my instinct is to provide a solution to other people’s problems but now, I would remind myself to understand the person’s needs, ask coping questions and acknowledging the other person’s feelings. I have learnt, albeit still trying to practice, to see and treat those in need not as problems to be solved but rather people to be loved.”
Wenbo provided another example he picked up from his training: “Don’t introduce new words to the conversation and give direct quotes”.
A significant part of PSS’ contributions materialise at the PitStop@YIH. Designated as a ‘safe space where students can relax, have fun and distress, Wenbo confirms: “(PitStop) is the perfect platform for [us] to get a hands-on experience in reaching out and understanding the general NUS student population,”
Before and after training
Both Beverly and Wenbo have had encounters with a friend-in-need before joining DYOM and shared how differently they would do things today.
Beverly disclosed how she once tried comforting a friend who had lost someone to suicide and after ensuring his family was safely next to him, did not know what else to say to lift him from his dejected state. Now she says she would have been more proactive to help him.
“After going through this training, I would have done it differently by asking questions to help my friend cope better as well as to help him express more of what he was feeling.”
Wenbo recalled ‘feeling a little lost, not knowing exactly what to say or do’ if his friends were to have an emotional breakdown over call. To help them feel better, he would rant alongside them only to realise later that such a behaviour was ineffective in supporting them.
Now instead of rushing to help them eliminate their misery, Wenbo has become more mindful.
“I will remind myself that sometimes being there is already enough, most of the time showing genuine concern and empathy while being there for a friend in need is more effective and useful than we imagine it to be,” he elaborated.
To those who would like to take up a PSS role, Wenbo recommends: “Keep an open heart and mind, be ready to listen to the problems of other people and just be kind to everyone that you are about to meet because we never know what someone else might be going through.”
We are listening
|Need someone to talk to? Want to find out more about self-care management tips? Or perhaps know someone at risk and might need support? Write to us at OSAcares@nus.edu.sg or find out more here.