Hello IASH.SG 2.0 and also to our NEW HOME.
Still bridging the gap in mental health and wellness care in Singapore.
It's been 2 years since we started IASH.SG, and boy, look how far we've come.
It really all started off with a handful of people who saw a big problem with the way mental health support could be accessed in Singapore.
For one, we know that there's still stigma attached to seeking help - friends may not be supportive, seeking help might be thought of as "weak" etc.
I'm glad to say that this perception has slowly been changing due to efforts of many mental initiatives and organisations through the recent years.
And on our part, we will keep doing this through our content, media and all our community efforts too - it's a combined effort country-wide, world-wide.
Let's keep going.
But specifically for IASH.SG, what we really wanted to do was to target mental health support on THREE very specific fronts.
Accessibility: Breaking down the barriers to seeking help.
Affordability: Making professional help not crazy-expensive too.
Community: And creating a sense of belonging and safety outside the therapy room.
With Accessibility, beyond the long waiting times, one of the barriers that many people face is that it's downright SCARY to reach out to speak to a mental health professional - especially if you don't know anything about them, you don't get to choose who you wish to speak to, and you have to walk in to a hospital to arrange an appointment etc.
I mean, we've all heard horror stories of what is meant to be our "gold-standard" mental health institution (a-hem) in Singapore right?
And then there's no guarantee that after all that, you'll be able to find a good fit with that professional too.
So how do we make that first line of reaching out less scary?
Well, that's how our Hear Buds service was started - an entirely volunteer-based, free, online peer support service that anyone who's unsure about the above can speak to.
And what was special about the Hear Buds was that these are people who were willing to be open and vulnerable themselves, sharing their own experiences with mental health on our social media and on their profile pages too.
And two years on, we are still going.
To all our hear buds out there reading this, thank you for being here. Well done :)
Since then, we've also expanded beyond the 1:1 and into Community-based efforts through our volunteer-run content, events and support groups.
Here, I wanted to give thanks to all our volunteers who helped to create and facilitate these events - to Audrey, Brian, Huda, Leon, June, Daniel, Tanisa, Jackyln, Xuhan etc - there are too many of you to name here, but thank you for all that you've done.
Just within our small little group, we've helped to bring hundreds experiencing mental health struggles together:
Running doodle and art events
More informal boardgame nights and potlucks
Hiking and mindfulness walks
Various mental health talks
Depression and anxiety support groups
Creating video content that has touched the lives of others and make them feel less alone.
And our ongoing discord server which has about 500+ members at this current point.
Well done, we need to continue on this endeavour!
On the Affordability side, we started our counselling services last year in 2022.
We were fortunate enough to link up with another charity to set up two small counselling rooms in cozy Holland Village.
Here, the public could see a trained counsellor from $60 a session, and on top of that receive up to 30% off if they are a student, or in need of financial aid etc.
We even leveraged on crowd-funding efforts, through donations and merchandise, so we could set up a "special subsidy fund" that would almost full subsidise the therapy for certain youths.
Unfortunately, things turned sour for us with the other charity - our rent was increased 3 times in a span of months, they wouldn't fix a broken aircon (and even doorbell!), and they even sneakily started advertising the rooms we furnished to create their own counselling service too.
It was quite the big falling out - and really, the fault was not on our part at all.
So, despite our counselling services there still going strong, it's time that IASH.SG found its own home.
IASH.SG will be finding its own home in 2024 :)
I won't give away our new secret location (but also still not confirmed haha), but it's going to be HUGE space and is situated near a lovely park too.
It's going to cost us a bit of funds to set up - we are still in the midst of looking for grants to help with renovation etc.
The rent is going to be higher than what it was previously - but I have the confidence we will figure this out.
Here's some of the things I'm planning ahead that I'd love to share with you.
First, we are going from two counselling rooms to FIVE!
It's been a bit of a squeeze where we are currently sometimes, and sometimes we have all rooms maxed out.
I also hope to have one of our new rooms rooms set up for play therapy so we can help younger children too. We'll also be growing the number of counsellors we have to take on clients. We expect that the new area we are moving to would also see more volume.
It's also high-time that we make a nice little reception for our clients too. So I'm glad we finally have our own space to do this.
To Mia, Nina, Amy and all our other counsellors who've been on this journey with me, thank you for sticking all the way through.
Let's build our new home together, okay?
Second, we are creating a permanent community space!
Again, this space we hope to rent is HUGE.
So half of it will be dedicated to creating this cozy event and community space - think cushions, sofas, books laying around, gentle music, boardgames etc.
In terms of actual plans for what we plan to do with the space day to day, at the moment I'm still not fully sure.
So don't mind if I just toss some of my ideas below okay?
We can open up this space to volunteers and community members who needs a little space away from the stress - with a mindfulness corner, self-help book library, cozy chairs and sofas to just spend time recuperating in.
We can also have volunteers helping to run this space, speaking to those who need a listening ear too.
We will grow the number of events since we have the space to ourselves - more talks, peer support groups, panel discussions, special guests, boardgame nights, mindfulness practices - all around, more accessible mental health communities too.
We can dedicate a corner to recording a more consistent and ongoing podcast
We also have a place to put up our merchandise for display too.
We can collab with other mental health organisations to run events in that space as well - perhaps even do a mini-mental health festival :)
We do need to figure out the bit of extra revenue we need to hit monthly to pay for rental of this space - I'm still working this out in my brain - but probably we'll need to create some paid but value-add workshops too, e.g. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Class, mindfulness workshops etc.
Still, I think there's alot of potential of what we can do together here. Let's keep growing and keep dreaming of big things!
Third (and probably the most boring bit), one big change we'll need to embrace is to set up a proper volunteer management programme.
So far, it's been done quite informally, and we haven't had the funds to hire a full time trained staff for this. Not to mention, it is a trained role and not easy to come by.
We've also had quite a few issues with volunteer management on and off - no surprises here, especially since there isn't alot of training yet for our volunteer leaders who currently manage quite a number of volunteers, nor do we have all the right control structures figured out - this is something we're going to have to put a lot of work into.
The good news is, we are now a registered social enterprise, and next year, we plan to engage the Youth Corp internship programme to get the help of various interns to run the community space as well as help out in the volunteer management.
This means, better engagement for all our wonderful volunteers as well, more hands to help onboard our VERY LONG WAITLIST of interested volunteer applicants, and much needed help to make our new home a safe haven and community for many.
So, all in all, exciting times forward.
Let's keep going IASH.SG!
P.s. I'll be using this blog post as a continue work-in-progress to dump down my thoughts and plans okay?
P.s.2. this is cute picture of a kitten for you.