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Breaking the stereotype of mental illness

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At support group Stherotype, everyone is welcome to share their battles with mental illness.

It all started when her close friend was self-harming in 2014. Unsure what to do, Jacelyn Chia encouraged her to seek professional help, and she was eventually diagnosed with depression in 2015.

"I couldn't empathise when she said that she felt alone. I didn't know what to do," said the 20-year-old Singapore University of Social Sciences undergraduate.

That incident got her thinking about what else she could do to help others with such struggles. In March 2017, Jacelyn started a support group for youths recovering from mental health conditions.

She named her initiative Stherotype, to dispel the "stereotype" of having to struggle with mental illnesses alone. The name also recognises how choosing to battle the illness on a daily basis makes one a "hero".

The group now has three volunteers and since helped five youths with various mental conditions, ranging from depression to anxiety. The 16 to 23-year-old youths connected with the group through Facebook and Carousell.


A recent discussion topic at Stherotype focused on the development of personal coping strategies. 
PHOTO CREDIT: JACELYN CHIA

They gather at The Red Box on the first Friday of each month to check in at where they're at in their lives. A typical session usually involves icebreakers, discussions on topics to better understand their mental health conditions, and activities that help them manage their struggles.

"This support group is a safe space for youths to be authentic, without the need to pretend that they have got it all," said Jacelyn, who is in her first year studying social work.


Jacelyn was one of the winners of the Faces of Youth Corps Singapore 2016, a peer nominated initiative to recognise volunteers who demonstrate values such as dedication and compassion. 
PHOTO CREDIT: JACELYN CHIA

While she is no stranger to volunteerism, Jacelyn admits her first attempt to help people with mental conditions was challenging.

"It was difficult to find people who were willing to share their expertise and help run this support group. I emailed about four organisations and was close to giving up," she shared.


Jacelyn found two of the youths after listing the support group on Carousell. However, she was warned by an administrator about constantly putting up listings on a platform meant for selling items.
IMAGE CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM CAROUSELL

Things picked up when Over-The-Rainbow, an organisation that also addresses youth mental wellness, offered to facilitate discussions during Stherotype sessions.

Youth Corps Singapore also chipped in by providing the venue and on Mar 3, Jacelyn held her first Stherotype session.


With support from staff from Over-The-Rainbow, Jacelyn (bottom left) has been organising sessions and outings for the youths in Stherotype. One outing was to an exhibition featuring the works of Yayoi Kusama, who made art installations based on her hallucinations.
PHOTO CREDIT: JACELYN CHIA

Over the past nine months, Jacelyn was encouraged by the little victories she saw in her support group, like when one of them conquered her fear of meeting strangers by befriending people in the group.

The experience that Jacelyn gained also helped her better counsel her close friend as she was more appreciative and aware that there are people around her who are willing to listen to her.

"I learnt that I don't always need to provide solutions. Sometimes, people just want to be heard," said Jacelyn.


Jacelyn's (second from left) heart was warmed when youths in Stherotype agreed to attend a concert to celebrate World Mental Health Day earlier this year. It was a milestone especially for those who suffer from social anxiety. 
PHOTO CREDIT: JACELYN CHIA

What else does Jacelyn hope to achieve with Stherotype?

She said: "I hope that this community would expand from its five members and be keen to continue the support group by themselves.

"It is open to anyone, even if they are not officially diagnosed with a mental health condition. It's generally a safe space to gather to be vulnerable and talk about their problems."

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: JACELYN CHIA