SINGAPORE – When he was 16, Mr Matthew Wong-Stewart, also known on social media and YouTube as Fish, found himself struggling with mental health issues and tried to take his own life.
But a message from a friend to the former actor of the popular Wah!Banana YouTube channel here made him take a step back.
He realised that he “had so much more to look forward to”, said the 26-year-old in an emotional video released on Tuesday (Sept 8) as part of non-profit organisation Samaritans Of Singapore’s (SOS) campaign during Suicide Prevention Awareness Week that began on Sunday.
Mr Stewart, an Australian who moved to Singapore when he was six, told The Straits Times on Thursday that he was raised in a family with a sports and military background, and words like “boys don’t cry” and “be a man” were normalised at home.
It made it difficult for him to share his struggles with his family or at school.
This stigma that boys and men face is what SOS is trying to address in its suicide prevention campaign this week.
SOS said that of the 400 suicide cases recorded here last year, two out of three people were male. This trend was consistent with observations in previous years.
The figure is a cause for concern, and SOS said that it points to an underlying societal issue – stereotypes which stop boys and men from expressing their emotions and struggles.
“Men who show the slightest sign of weakness are met with judgment and prejudice, creating a psychological barrier that prevents them from opening up to those around them,” SOS said.
Its campaign this year, called #SuicideSeesNoGender, includes two video clips of men – including Mr Stewart – and their partners talking about the difficulties they faced.
The clips also encourage viewers to seek help and share their troubles.
For Mr Stewart, who was a Wah!Banana actor from 2013 to 2016 and known for his e-Sports commentating work, the helplines he found in his secondary school handbook in his youth helped him greatly.
He decided to call one of them and was relieved that the person on the line did not judge him for sharing his emotions.
According to Mr Stewart’s post on Facebook sharing the SOS video, he later sought therapy from the age of 22 after being encouraged by his peers and mentors.
Now married to a Singaporean, Mr Stewart is the community and channel lead for South-east Asia at video game company Riot Games in Singapore.
“I have this platform to share my story,” he told ST of his role in SOS’ campaign. “If even one person hears my story and it helps them come to terms with how they feel, I would be incredibly happy.”
SOS also noted that amid the Covid-19 pandemic, stress levels are on the rise among Singaporeans.
“The economic downturn, rising unemployment rates coupled with reduced social interactions and feelings of uncertainty have created an urgent need to encourage open conversations about our struggles,” it said.
Samaritans Of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association For Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute Of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788
Other local groups, such as non-profit social service agency Care Corner Singapore, have also seen more young people who are affected by the pandemic coming forward, with financial difficulties due to their parents’ loss of job or income, troubles over income cuts in the gig economy, or a sense of helplessness.
Care Corner’s assistant director of youth services Martin Chok said his team has adopted different approaches during the pandemic to ensure it can continue reaching out to young people while social distancing rules are in place.
These include checking in on them frequently through WhatsApp and engaging with them through video games or other interests.
To raise awareness of youth mental health in the community, Care Corner and the North East Community Development Council launched a three-day community outreach programme on Thursday titled “Difference in YOUth”.
The programme includes a youth mental wellness dialogue for caregivers and vocational workshops to engage participants online.
“Many youths in distress prefer turning to their friends, as their peers are able to relate to their situation,” said Mr Chok.
“However, the advice they receive from friends may not always be the best. Very few are motivated to seek formal help, which is why it is so important that we reach out to the youths through a programme such as this.”
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