1) What inspired you to start Campus PSY?
Three years agos in late 2016, a group of friends and I volunteered in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in the schizophrenia ward where we engaged them in games and helped organised events. Amongst the people in the ward, there were a lot of youths who had many mental health issues. At that point, I felt so inadequate because I couldn’t help them and I didn’t want to cause more damage. So I wanted to start with advocating mental health. I co-created with Youth Corps SG to train youth volunteers to help their peers. I started off with three agencies, targeting 17-35 year olds, so we advertised it on social media.
We expected our initial turn out to only be 20, but 130 potential youth volunteers turned up. In the end, we selected 50 volunteers and helped them undergo a three-month training programme with various mental health organisations. We trained them in basic mental health skills like listening and suicide protocols. We eventually managed to expand to advocacy, training and peer support and scaled-up our support in school.
2) Mental health does not discriminate against age and affects all age groups, so why did you choose youths specifically?
It was because of a past experience I had where a close friend of mine had depression and had to leave school. He did well, he was a student athlete and he had good grades so no one suspected that he actually had depression. Back then, I had little to no awareness on the topic of depression and the only thing that I could do was be there for him. Eventually, the peer support that we offered him was vital in his recovery. From then on, it became very apparent to me that there was a prevalent stigma in seeking help for mental health. Furthermore, by focussing on youths to help prevent suicide, it would eventually lead to upstream benefits where they might be able to help their families in the future.
3) Was there anyone who was instrumental in helping you push through your struggles?
There were quite a few mentors in helping me navigate this. When I was working with ex-offenders, my ex-boss was really quite instrumental in helping me push through. He was a teacher, a mentor and a buddy. He really gave me opportunities to experience this field and taught me how to run an organisation. Through him, I learnt to be faithful to the work that I was called to do, serving the community with the right heart.
4) How different is life now as compared to before?
In Singapore, it is very conventional for us to want to do well to get into a government service, then climb the corporate ladder. However, my route was already unconventional. I started out first in a junior college, where I discovered that the level of academic rigour just did not suit me. So, one of my teachers recommended that I join this new Ngee Ann Polytechnic course called Chinese Studies because while I was in JC, I had helped contribute to the chinese section of my school’s newspaper. Eventually, I managed to make it to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) where I studied Linguistics, but the course was really not what I expected; it was too boring so, eventually, I just dropped out.
But during that time, I taught young Muslim probationals tuition. This was my first encounter with at-risk youths. At first, I could not connect with them because I was from the mainstream and they were not. They were all around the ages of 15 to 16, so I encouraged them to make a change in their lives which really helped me connect with them. This eventually sparked their interest in taking private ‘N’ Levels where all of them did well enough to get into top choices. This experience really helped me discover joy outside of money, which prior to that, I had no understanding of and this also sparked my interest in social work.
After dropping out from NTU, I applied to the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) to pursue a part-time degree in social work so that I could also engage with young drug offenders. These experiences really changed my definition of “success”. At first, I believed that success meant academic or career-based success, but having taken the longer route in life, I still consider myself successful because I have impacted many lives along the way. These are things that money cannot buy. God’s gift to me was helping youths and helping to build the next generation.
5) What was your proudest moment with regards to Campus PSY?
It was when I received the Singapore Youth Award in 2019 where I was able to share my journey with the audience and stakeholders. I saw them as equals.
Also, whenever I see youth volunteers under Campus PSY, I feel like a proud parent. This is because I felt like I had built the next generation of mental health advocates and they felt it too.
6) What is some advice you would give to someone who would want to get into the social service sector?
Work in the sector first. Start with volunteering, then interning , then working in the sector for at least one to two years to understand it. See if you are suitable for this kind of working environment. If you are looking to start your own charity or ground-up initiative, make sure you find a team that complements your strengths and find yourself a unique selling point. For example, Campus PSY is clear that it is for youths, by youths, where distressed youths are encouraged to not be afraid to seek help, no matter how bleak things look. That’s our unique selling point.
7) What has been your toughest moment?
It has to be three years ago when we were still a ground-up. In the day I had to manage work at Campus PSY and at night I had to go to school. Some evenings and almost all my weekends I taught tuition so that I could finance my day-to-day expenses as well as Campus PSY. I really had to balance my financial needs for my company, for myself and for school. I had offers from other, bigger organisations to assimilate Campus PSY with them, but I saw that as taking the easy way out and I did not want to run my company that way. By God’s grace, I survived and realised the importance of grit and resilience. Finally, in 2019 we achieved the status of non-profit organisation where we could finally get funding from the government.
8) What does thriving mean to you?
It means bringing meaning to others, really touching and transforming lives. It is not just surviving, but sowing positivity into the lives of others. It is about building others up and not letting them suffer.