Jon: World Mental Health Day 2017 - Personal sharing by Individual with Dysthymia

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In commemoration of World Mental Health Day 2017, we have a series of posts on mental health issues lined up for you!  The first will be a sharing of a personal case of an individual who has been through mental health issues and for the sake of this post, a pseudonym will be used to protect the identity of the individual.  This post is essential because it will give insight into the world of the mentally ill from their perspective as compared to what we often learn from the internet or books.  Without further ado, please enjoy this short question and answer style post!
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Q:  What mental illness did you have and how long did you live with it?

I was diagnosed with dysthymia when I was 15 and I have been living with it since I was 8 or 9. I can’t really recall.

Q:  What is living with a mental illness like?

Dysthymia is a milder form of depression but it’s also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder because it goes on for an extended period of time.

Imagine feeling depressed all the time, from your waking moment to when you finally fall asleep.  While I don’t necessarily have suicidal thoughts, I live in such depression every day.  Being in a melancholic state, coupled with my low self-esteem, I tend to overthink every single action and word of people I interact with on a daily basis.  It gets extremely tiring when every micro-expression makes you feel as though a person hates you or finds you a terrible company to be with.  Even when I receive compliments, I feel greatly uncomfortable as I can’t help but think they are just lying to me.

As an extrovert who enjoys being around people, I get exhausted by the end of the day because I have to use a lot of energy to not think about how others see me or that I am worthless to the people around me.  It gets in the way of me enjoying time with people.  Sometimes, I feel so drained, I’d stay in bed the whole day just crying.

Q:  What do you wish for others to know about mental illnesses?

Unlike media portrayal, a large majority of us aren’t violent or perpetually weeping away.  We look just like you, except we are ill.  I hope people will understand that mental illnesses are just like physical illnesses and can be treated overtime with medication and therapy.

I also hope people know that mental illnesses come in different forms and on a spectrum.  Just because someone may not be diagnosed with a severe form of mental illness or may appear stable to you doesn’t mean you can invalidate their experiences and what they are going through.  Nothing hurts more than receiving dismissive comments and knowing someone understands is so important to one with mental illness.

Q:  What advice would you give to people who have friends/family that suffer from mental illnesses?
Be patient.  
Sometimes, we may do things that makes no rational sense or get upset with things that appear trivial to you.  Instead of telling us how we should feel, being a good listening ear goes a long way in letting us know you care.  Personally, talking to people who tries to understand what I am going through motivates me to stop skipping my medication and focus on recovery.

Q:  What do you hope to achieve by sharing your story with us?

While what I say may not be representative of my fellow mental illness fighters, I hope people understand that it is excruciating to live in our heads all the time, just like it’s painful to live with a cold for a period of time.  I hope people will be more aware of the different types of mental illnesses but at the same time understand that everyone has a different experience.  Just because someone may have for example, anxiety disorder, does not mean he/she has the same symptoms as another person with anxiety disorder.

I also hope my fellow mental illness fighters know they are not alone and we are all fighting together.
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[The above interview was curated by Jon, SG Psych Stuff team member.]

UniPsych Symposium Reflections: Part 2 - NUS and NTU

After UniPsych Symposium Reflections: Part 1 by JCUS students, here comes Part 2!

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Reflection by Janet, NUS:
It was interesting seeing how speakers of varying backgrounds come together for a single focused event on psychology.  I particularly enjoyed the session by the School of Positive Psychology as it was an area that I had minimal exposure to and it was very interactive and useful in giving more insight into this area of psychology.  While psychology is a broad field, seeing so many people who are passionate about the a common area come together was intriguing and motivating to see so much interest in psychology.  Given the variety of talks, it'll be beneficial for students to come to the event with an open mind to explore different fields of psychology that they might not have considered before.
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Reflection by Emmaus, NTU:
Organising UniPsych Symposium 2017 was an arduous journey, fraught with trials and learning opportunities. Despite this, I appreciate the opportunity to have worked alongside a team of peers and seniors who put in tremendous amounts of effort to make the event a success.  I would be the last person to say that the event went 100% smoothly - I woke up late and had to rush down from Hall, and it was just the start of the day  -  but it was a joint effort from our beloved volunteers, committee and organisers to keep things moving even when problems cropped up. 
For me, the talk by by Mr Suresh Joseph from Fernhill Consultancy Pte Ltd was the most memorable.  Though the he did not share much about how he got into the field of trauma psychology and addictions, Mr Suresh explained complex trauma in an engaging way, and made sure that everyone could follow the talk.  He also shared a case study of one of his patients:  her symptoms, how the diagnosis was made, and how treatment was arranged to suit her needs - which exemplified the type of work he did as a psychotherapist.
All in all, it was an enjoyable and fruitful event. 
To those thinking of joining the Organising committee, go in with open minds and open hearts.  You may get tired of talking to people or worn out from the processes and your other commitments during the whole planning period, but the thing to keep in mind is that you are no longer just a representative of your school, but a part of something larger, working to help others like yourself to discover more about themselves and their future possibilities.
All the best and I hope to see y'all again next year at UniPsych Symposium 2018!
Hope you have enjoyed the UniPsych Symposium in August and all our reflections!  Here are all the past reflections:
SGPsychStuff Goes to UniPsych Symposium 2017: Part 1
SGPsychStuff Goes to UniPsych Symposium 2017: Part 2
SGPsychStuff Goes to UniPsych Symposium 2017: Part 3
UniPsych Symposium Reflections: Part 1 - JCUS

UniPsych Symposium Reflections: Part 1 - JCUS

After the reflections from the SG Psych Stuff team, it is time for some reflections from students.  These reflections are from current students from the James Cook University Singapore, who attended the UniPsych Symposium.
So let's hear from them!
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Reflection by Claudia Toh:
I think that UniPsych Symposium was a successful event and through the event I was able to gain insight of the few different fields I am initially interested in.  Particularly, my favourite session was the first session 'Educational Psychology in the Ministry of Education'.  The speakers from from this session were very friendly and helpful in answering any enquiries about their job, the requirements and work schedule.  They also provided us with more information than initially stated in their presentation and encouraged us to look into their field as well as related fields.  Because of their enthusiasm, I was actually impacted and encouraged to pursue in this field of my interest in the near future.
On the other hand, it was also through the event that I realized that I may have wrongly conceptualised certain fields of job due to stereotypes, and that some fields may not be what I am expressly interested in.
In addition, this event also provide a chance and bring together like-minded people from other schools of similar interests.  Therefore in conclusion, I find that UniPsych Symposium was a meaningful event and I am actually glad that I decided to went for it! However, I would suggest that in future, the event could be more interactive and increase involvement between students and speakers.
Reflection by Parimala Uthakumar:
The event was interesting and knowledgeable.  I choose three sessions, of which two were by Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Forensic Psych Services.  We were informed honestly and accurately about what we could expect for our future after graduation.  There were insides as to what the job scopes were about.  This was important to me because I had a schema on what to expect from certain jobs due to their names and organizations.  My most memorable sessions would be the MSF and forensic sessions due to the fact that I am interested in those particular field of study and am interested in enrolling and applying for those sectors.  It was memorable because I had a reality check on what the job scope was really on,  which was different from what I had expected.  We were also given insides on exactly what we have to do on a day to day basis.  The speakers gave us real life examples on their job scopes such as report writing and building rapport with the clients they work with and others, so that would be my valuable take-away from the sessions.  One good memory was that I met new people and became friends with them through this experience.  One of them is from NUS and the other three were from James Cook University.  We spoke about the different ways we were being taught in our respective schools and the types of modules we had taken and suggestion for modules that would help us in our degree program.  One suggestion would be for the event organizer to not treat us like children during our lunch period.  Other than that, the event was well thought out and smooth.
Stay tuned for the reflections by NUS and NTU students! 

SGPsychStuff Goes to UniPsych Symposium 2017: Part 3

SG Psych Stuff was invited to this year's UniPsych Symposium, and Jon, Xav, and myself joined me in this wonderful event.  We will share with you our thoughts about the symposium (Part 1), the talks (Part 2), as well as our take-aways from the symposium (Part 3)!  Click on the links above for Part 1 and 2!

Question 3:  What are your key take-aways from the respective talks?

Jon:  My key take-aways having attended both the IMH talks as well as the positive psychology talk are that you have to be really sure of the path you are taking before choosing the field you wish to pursue in psychology.  Particularly because psychology is such a broad field and there are so many potential careers to pursue within it.  Furthermore, given that most jobs in the psychology field require at least a master’s degree so you are talking about minimum 6 to 7 years being taken up solely to pursue your studies. Even 6 to 7 years can be considered a less conservative estimate, especially if you take into account the probability of being rejected from graduate school, or the waiting time to being accepted for a graduate program.  I think it is essential to be sure of what you want before choosing to pursue psychology.  Also, networking as mentioned by my two colleagues is key in this field, especially with how small the circles are in Singapore.  Everywhere you go, you’ll definitely see familiar faces so it doesn’t hurt to get to know more people and making that effort to actually maintain a positive working relationship with them, because you never know when you may chance across them again.

Xav:  From the talks I attend, I realised that aside from passion, it is crucial to have self-awareness if one wishes to pursue a career as a Psychologist.  As a psychologist who wishes to help others, it is important to know the reasons why you want to pursue this job, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, and actively work to improve on them.  As put by Dr. Sandor Heng, the psychologist who shared on behalf of NAMS:
“Be aware of what your own issues are and work on them, otherwise they will get in your way of helping people through their problems.”
Apart from being self-aware, I recognise the importance of networking in the field of Psychology.  During lunch, I was grateful to be able to speak to a few speakers and understand that being in the field of helping people, it is imperative to be flexible and resilient as you may meet clients that may not respond well to the type of therapy used and require a different type of approach.  It is also cardinal to be humble and open to experiences as there is so much to learn not only from fellow colleagues in the field, but also from the patients you are treating.

SGPsychStud:  Takeaways from the keynote lecture, the Brahm centre session on Mindfulness and the panel discussion by private practitioners:
  1. We need to keep in view of possible trends in our industry, and take note of the relevant skills that we need to build, especially for young graduates and psychologists.
  2. Mindfulness is not a difficult practice to do, which sometimes we just need to stop, feel our breath, and be aware.
  3. To experience flow, we need to be aware and mindful of our own physical sensations, thoughts and feelings, and not to be instantly reactive to everything that happens. 
  4. Find our what your passion is and let it drive you towards what you do in your work.
  5. For those planning to go into private practice, you need to build a cliente base, and make sure you can cover your expenses for at least 6 to 9 months.
  6. Always upgrade your knowledge by attending courses, researching and reading up, and improving on yourself and your practice.
  7. Do self-care.
  8. Work towards understand yourself as a practitioner. Make sure to get supervision.
  9. Always network.
This post end our reflections from SG Psych Stuff team members who attended the UniPsych Symposium. From all this final post (and the earlier ones), you can see that there are some similar takeaways and reflection points, which are 1) know yourself, and 2) always make sure to network! This points have always been noted in our posts in SG Psych Stuff!

Know yourself and start craving your career well!

SGPsychStuff Goes to UniPsych Symposium 2017: Part 2

This time, other than myself, Jon and Xav joined me in this wonderful event.  We will share with you our thoughts about the symposium (Part 1), the talks (Part 2) , as well as our take-aways from the symposium (Part 3)! See Part 1 here, and stay tuned to Part 3!

Question 2:  How do you feel about the talks?

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Jon:  The first two talks I attended were by speakers from the Institute of Mental Health and they were really informative on what psychologists within the mental health sector in Singapore did.  They also shared very personal experiences which I thought was really good as it allowed the participants and myself to really understand the situation on the ground.  The speakers were also very open to questions, even the sensitive ones, such as their salary or what they hated about the job.  I think these were important considerations for most people who were interested in a future career in the mental health sector, and to allow them to know what to expect and how they can best prepare for it.

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The last talk I attended was on positive psychology by Tara Schofield from School of Positive Psychology.  I think this particular talk gave a very comprehensive yet brief overview of what positive psychology was about, and though it may not be as well established as the other fields in psychology (e.g., mental health, organizational, health, etc.), I think it was an eye opening experience for most of the people who attended it.  All in all, I feel the talks were really detailed and well thought out, but if i were to nitpick, i would rather the speakers take more time to answer questions or network with the people.  This sentiment is also echoed by my colleagues throughout this post, as the presentations were at times too long and left little space for any questions or networking opportunities.

Xav:  The first talk I attended was Psychology in a Correctional Setting by Singapore Prisons Service (SPS).  The talk debunked myths of working in a prison - that the prison setting is a safe place to work in and inmates are not uncooperative/aggressive.  The speakers shared with us that apart from clinical assessments and intervention programmes, providing prison staff with training of psychological first aid and research are also part of their job scope.  With regards to the culture at SPS, both speakers agree that SPS has a family-like culture and emphasize on professional development, offering sponsorship to postgraduate studies, opportunities to attend symposiums, training, etc.
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The minimum requirement for undergraduates is at least a Second Upper Honours degree, a postgraduate degree in Clinical/Forensic/Counselling/IO or a degree in Social Work.  Applicants should be able to able to work with those with low socioeconomic status and ability to speak dialect would be a plus point.  Internships are available so interested participants can send in their applications early.
I feel that the talk was overall very informative to both students with minimal knowledge of the field as well as students who hope to enter the field.  The talk covered the general job scope of a correctional rehabilitation specialist and a psychologist in the prison setting, the people each profile works with, organisational culture and professional development, which are important factors of consideration for students contemplating whether to enter the prisons service field.

The second talk I attended was From the clinic to the community - Journey of a psychologist in CPH by Community Psychology Hub (CPH). The talk introduced CPH as the first hub model for Psychology in Singapore, focusing on early intervention, adult disabilities, vulnerable adults and research on local needs.  The organisation believes in a practice-based research, support in a naturalistic setting.  Instead of an office setting, psychologists in CPH do home interventions as they believe clients are more comfortable in such settings.  Research assistants in CPH can also expect opportunities to be on the ground and volunteering apart from their research job scope.
Speakers shared that CPH has an open and sharing culture and that the job is fulfilling as not only do employees get to care for the community, they get to learn from each other’s experiences as there are informal sharing sessions about their week between employees.  There are also training opportunities and case conferences for employees.
To be a research assistant, applicants should have an Honours degree in Psychology.  To be a psychologist in CPH, applicants should preferably have a Clinical Psychology, Educational Psychology or Research Psychology Masters degree or Doctorate.
The talk was interesting as it was the first time I had heard of a Singapore organisation that offers therapy and intervention programmes out of a clinical setting.  The speakers mostly shared their personal experiences that gave students a good glimpse on the job scope and day-to-day experiences of a psychologist or research assistant working in CPH.

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The third talk I attended was Passion Adds Value to One’s Life, An Addiction Takes Away Value: A Clinician’s Journey in the Addictions Field by National Addictions Management Service (NAMS).  The speakers explained that NAMS provides addicts with a platform to vent and regulate emotions apart from therapy, offering a multidisciplinary approach to helping patients.  The speakers introduced the differences between a psychologist and a counsellor in the addictions field, as well as shared their experiences working in the Australia mental health system and the differences working in Australia and Singapore.  Just like the other 2 talks, the speakers shared their job scope and the career opportunities available.  Additionally, the speakers shared their challenges faced when working with clients, as well as the necessary soft skills required to be a psychologist or counsellor in NAMS.
The talk by NAMS was very educational in helping students understand the job scope of a psychologist and counsellor in-depth in the addictions field.  The psychologist acknowledged that unlike what is commonly perceived, clinical psychologists do administrative work most of the time rather than working with patients.  Administrative work include mainly development of treatment modality and researching.  The counsellor also reiterated the importance of soft skills and experience in pursuing a job in the addictions field.
At the end of the talk, the speakers discussed the dilemma some students may face - whether to pursue postgraduate first or take a gap year to obtain work experience.  The speakers presented the advantages of both perspectives that I feel is useful advice for students who are torn between both.

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SGPsychStud:  I attended the talks by Brahm Centre and the panel discussion by private practitioners.  Eric Lim from Brahm Centre covered about mindfulness and how it may help in our everyday lives, with a very light touch on what Brahm Centre does.  In the panel discussion by the private practitioners (who were mostly counsellors), it started with a short sharing of what each of them specialise in, followed by a round-robin answering of questions posed by the attendees.

My comment would be that there should be a consistent note to speakers of content to be covered during the talks, i.e. to cover services provided or the work done by psychologists / counsellors / therapists, career building tips, sharing of their own experiences.  With a consistent coverage by the speakers, it will provide better and more detailed information to students.
I would also suggest the panel sessions to have at most 3 speakers, rather than 5 speakers.  I also attended a 5-speaker panel last year in the UniPsych Symposium, and noticed a similar issue in both years.  With 5 speakers (and no moderator) in the panel discussion, there was not enough air-time for each speaker, with everyone answering once for every question.  The issue of not having enough air-time hence caused the session to overrun, which was the same for both years.

Stay tuned for Part 3!