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Jodee Kua shares about being a Peer Support Specialist

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National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and the Institute of Mental Health jointly conducted a 180-hour training curriculum for the Certificate of Peer Support (CPS)’s pioneer class

According to a study by NCSS, about 70 percent of people recovering from mental health issues, face problems living with dignity, due to the attitudes and actions of people they encounter. 55 percent of them have problems participating in community activities. To tackle these challenges, NCSS worked on outreach efforts such as increasing awareness of mental health issues, making community resources available online, advocating for employment opportunities as well as partnering with social service and healthcare organisations on various activities.

Earlier this year, NCSS and the Institute of Mental Health collaborated on the first national training framework for peer support specialists (PSS) to serve in both social service and healthcare sectors. Peer Support Specialists are persons that have experience of recovery from mental health issues, are trained and thereafter employed to provide a structured framework to support the recovery journey of other persons with mental health issues.

The first pilot ran in February 2017, with the pioneer cohort of 23 persons successfully completing their peer support training. To become a certified PSS, trainees have to go through the curriculum including written assessments and supervised practical experience. These practicals include engaging with their peers and also identifying support resources available at social service and healthcare organisations.

We spoke with Jodee Kua, a 20 year old student that dealt with depression, panic attacks and personality disorder since she was 11. Prior to enrolling in CPS, she had been helping and supporting young people with mental health concerns since 2009.

Active Age (AA): How did you find out about the CPS programme?
Jodee Kua (JK): I was doing a counselling advanced diploma course at the time, but I always felt that counselling was not exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to use my experiences to help other peers. At the time, I came across the term peer support and had discovered that this movement was working well in other countries. Out of curiosity, I googled for peer support courses in Singapore where I came across this program.

AA: What about and how did the CPS programme help you and your community, family and friends?
JK: The Peer Support Specialist Program gave me an opportunity to meet many other peers and learn more of the growth of peer support in Singapore as some of them were already practicing. With Mr Chris Martin leading our learning, he was able to cultivate a powerful, safe and strong recovery culture in the classroom where we could feel safe to express ourselves.

We were equipped with skills such as using recovery language, class facilitation skills and most importantly, self-care skills. In the course, we learnt a lot about ourselves as people and people in recovery. The most significant day was an intimate session where we set aside the day to not be disrupted in the classroom at all, as we all shared our recovery stories to one another, some for the very first time. I felt that I learnt a lot about myself, and was shown a lot of insight and perspectives from the materials as well as my classmates. Some of the things hit you really hard, as though it was supposed to be something that would seem natural to us but it might not be for others. In the recent events I’ve participated in, I learnt how to articulate my recovery story as well as my opinions better, it has also helped me in my recovery to be able to share and connect with other peers, and of course practice more self-care strategies.

AA: What are a few signs of depression that are commonly missed?
JK: I guess the difficulty comes from the idea that it’s generally hard to discern depression from sadness without the right knowledge. Personally, I felt that signs generally missed would be the lack of concentration and energy, depressed moods and suicidal thoughts. Sometimes the lack of concentration and energy and depressed moods are overlooked as a normal day’s mood after a tough day at work; it takes more time before we realised that those signs have continued for a long period and that it’s affecting the person’s functioning. Sometimes it’s even seen as a personality flaw of the person instead of someone who might be facing mental health concerns.

Where it comes to suicidal thoughts, suicide seems to be something that people generally didn’t like to talk about and didn’t know how to talk about it, whether it’s to offer support and even voice opinions. The person facing it would be taking tremendous effort to voice out that they are having such thoughts and as the environment is potentially unaware on how to receive that information or offer the support, we might’ve missed that as a sign that the individual may be facing mental health concerns.

AA: What are some of the incidents that you have helped with?
JK: I felt that I could understand the importance of language and tone in expressing empathy towards people in my social network. I could identify strengths easier as well as important factors of recovery progress that most of my friends might’ve overlooked, such as looking for a hobby (meaning and purpose) or staying close to the right friends (recovery relationships).

AA: Can you share 1 – 2 important points about seeking counselling that you hope to share with others?
JK: Counselling is a lot more underrated than people think. There seems to be a connection that people make with counselling and mental illnesses, but in my opinion, counselling can be anybody, anyone who could be going through a difficult time in our lives. Everybody has mental health; it is one of the aspects of our health. Everybody also goes through their own set of struggles and issues that sometimes cause them some distress that they may not know how to work out. Of course, most of us turn to our friends and families for support and guidance, which is great because we would be supported. Friends and families however sometimes out of good will, would start giving directive advice. The counsellor, on the other hand, is equipped with certain skills and knowledge that most of us who do not study counselling may not have come across, they are also equipped in a way that they are there to provide resources, support you and aid you though your stressful events as you search for your own ways and answers. Talking to a counsellor would be a difference experience compared to talking with your loved ones.

Sometimes in counselling, you may not have had a good experience or felt that the counsellor may not have been a good fit; it doesn’t mean all counsellors are bad, it could mean that possibly that counsellor’s approach may not be the one you would like to take. Rapport is one of the factors important in building a good counselling relationship, so don’t give up on helping yourself so soon!


Picture credit: Jodee Kua

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