Recent developments in the last few years have brought about an increased focus on youth mental health issues. But mental health challenges are complex issues to fully comprehend for two reasons. First, there is no single exact cause to explain its development. Second, a specific solution for it remains a work-in-progress1.
There are high costs associated with mental health treatment. A new Lancet Commission report on mental health indicated that mental health disorders will cost the global economy US$16 trillion by 2030. The economic cost is primarily due to long-term disease burden of mental illness and lost productivity of approximately 12 billion working days each year2.
Wellcome Trust’s mental health research
This prompted Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation focused on health research, to commit £200 million (S$377 million) to ‘transform how we understand, fund, prevent and treat anxiety and depression in young people’3.
The goal is to create ‘a world in which no one is held back by mental health problems’.
The first Wellcome Trust commission explored the aspects of interventions (a.k.a. ‘Active Ingredients’) that really make a difference in preventing and treating anxiety and/or depression in young people aged 14-24 years old worldwide.
Thirty global research teams were commissioned to review 26 proposed active ingredients ranging from loneliness to self-compassion to ‘mattering’.
Acceset, the Institute for Digital Medicine (WisDM) and N.1 Institute for Health (N.1) comprised the only team from South-East Asia commissioned by the Wellcome Trust. We reviewed the effects of an increased sense of mattering on improving youth mental health.
How mattering contributes to peer support programmes
Mattering comprises feelings of importance, personalised care and attention, and being valued and needed by others4. It affects one’s perception of the quality of social connection, such as how one relates to others and how one feels others are relating to oneself5.
The need for mattering can be met through peer support programmes, which can improve the quality of social relationships. A study by Peggy Thoits looked at the effects of peer support programme on the well-being of patients recovering from a cardiac medical condition. Through peer support, peer helpers derived meaning and purpose, which increased their sense of mattering and well-being6.
Mattering comprises feelings of importance, personalised care and attention and being valued and needed by others.
Scaling peer support programmes through technology
Digital platforms, customised for peer support, can play an important role in scaling up peer support programmes for the community.
The benefits include enhancing the safety of peer support by allowing supervisors to work closely with peer helpers to jointly support any distressed individuals, and aggregating data collected to enhance peer support programmes.
As a very promising step forward, whole-of-government initiatives in Singapore, such as the Youth Well-Being Network, bring together technological, research and clinical expertise from young persons to address prevailing mental health concerns.
This can inspire sandbox programmes to be initiated, which can allow the most promising solutions to be implemented for the benefit of the community.
Matt Oon is founder of Acceset, recipient of the Queen’s Young Leader Award in 2018, and an associate with the Philip Yeo Initiative.
Dean Ho is a Provost’s Chair Professor, Director of the Institute for Digital Medicine (WisDM) at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and The N.1 Institute for Health (N.1), and Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the National University of Singapore.
- Mental health: transforming research and treatments. Wellcome. https://wellcome.org/what-we-do/our-work/mental-health-transforming-research-and-treatments
- The Carter Centre. (2018, November 16). Psychiatric Times. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/mental-illness-will-cost-world-16-usd-trillion-2030
- Mental health: transforming research and treatments. Wellcome. https://wellcome.org/what-we-do/our-work/mental-health-transforming-research-and-treatments#why-it’s-important-073b
- Dixon A.L. (2016) Mattering. In: Levesque R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Adolescence. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-32132-5_138-2
- Flett, G. (2018, June 1). The Psychology of Mattering. Academic Press. https://www.elsevier.com/books/the-psychology-of-mattering/flett/978-0-12-809415-0
- Thoits, P. A. (2012). Role-Identity Salience, Purpose and Meaning in Life, and Well-Being among Volunteers. Social Psychology Quarterly, 75(4), 360-384. https://doi.org/10.1177/0190272512459662