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Sean Toh in ICU after suffering a heart attack from overworking in March 2020. 

How a group of friends came together to start a student-led mental health movement after learning to embrace their mental health struggles. 

29 September 2021 

“There are not enough reasons yet for me to think that I am struggling”, were the words that resonated with Sean Toh, alumnus of NUS Psychology, and founder of SPECTRUM, as he checked-in with two of his students in Biological Psychology. Little did he know that a couple of days later, Sean would have almost never hear from his students again.   

In March 2020, Sean suffered a heart attack (acute myocarditis) due to stress. For him, self-stigma had always been the biggest obstacle that prevented him from fully engaging in life. Even as he was overcommitted, Sean often found himself at the torment of his disappointment when he failed to achieve any of his expectations. Still, Sean felt normal not to seek help because he observed the same in many of his peers. 

During his ICU stay, Sean was visited by a close friend, Karen Lee. He fondly remembered how she would confide in him about her mental health struggles –  from the littlest to crippling moments of anxiety and sadness. It was then that Sean realised, that had he too acknowledged that he was mentally struggling and decided to seek help, he would not have suffered the heart attack. He would not have overworked himself.   

One who takes care of the littlest is one who takes care of the whole. We (students) tend to think that so many of our problems are minor and transient, and we would eventually get through them ourselves. This nearly cost me my life.” 
- Sean Toh, alumnus of NUS Psychology, and founder of SPECTRUM.

Miraculously, Sean managed to fully recover from his heart disease with only medication and plenty of rest. His prognosis was more than excellent.  

Today, Sean reflects: 

“The near death experience reminded me of a choice I never thought I had. I learnt that seeking help and learning to relax is a daily choice. Once I took that leap of faith, I realised that there is absolutely no drawback in doing so. Though there were days that I still struggled to make the same choice, every day is a chance to begin again. I wish for my fellow students to be kinder to themselves. As we learn to make a habit of choosing what is best for our mental health, we are well on our way to live a life with genuine fulfilment.”  

With a second chance at life, Sean stepped towards an unfamiliar path – lengthening the timeline of his aspirations and learning to unwind and relax.  

To champion for an improvement in mental health perceptions, Sean formed a team with his passionate friends, Karen Lee, Wellace Leong and Coco Yau to participate in the NUS Public Health Challenge 2020 in which they prevailed.  


Spectrum-ID

SPECTRUM, is a student-led mental health movement that centres on the belief that mental health falls on a continuum. SPECTRUM aims to raise awareness among students that mental health is inclusive and fluid. This inclusivity encourages students to be constantly aware of their own mental well-being, while fluidity reminds them of the need to consistently give and seek help from the community. Together, SPECTRUM strives to foster a de-stigmatised student culture towards mental health by increasing help-seeking and help-giving behaviours. 

Spectrum-members


Group members: 
Top row: Coco Yau, Year 4, Psychology and Wellace Leong, NUS Statistics alumnus 
Bottom row: Karen Lee, Year 4, Psychology and Sean Toh, NUS Psychology alumnus

SPECTRUM aspires to:  

  • Normalise mental unwellness 
    SPECTRUM believes that this is the first of many steps to striving for collective mental wellness.  

  • Advocate that we should place mental (un)wellness at the forefront of all friendships 
    SPECTRUM encourages all students to have that little ounce more of courage to be vulnerable, to open up and support others towards mental well-being.

  • Be the safe space that we feel our students truly deserve  
    SPECTRUM aims to be the space that empowers. The space that allows all forms of emotions and feelings to be as they are. 

Catch SPECTRUM’s first-ever workshops at the wellNUS Festival 2021 from 1 to 30 October 2021. Browse through the calendar and sign up now as workshops are filling quickly. Follow them on Instagram @Spectrum.NUS (Upcoming in October!) or email phsoc@u.nus.edu.

Contributor

Sean Toh, NUS Psychology alumnus, Founding Member of SPECTRUM 

Wellace Leong, NUS Statistics & Data Science alumnus, Founding Member of SPECTRUM 

Karen Lee, Year 4, NUS Psychology, Founding Member of SPECTRUM 

Coco Yau, Year 4, NUS Psychology, Founding Member of SPECTRUM 

Photos: All photos were taken pre-COVID-19 with the exception of Sean Toh’s photos which were taken within safety management measures.