Gatekeeping Lives: New Initiative Empowers ASEAN Youth To Provide Mental Health Support To Their Peers
STORY: Diane Lam
10 October 2022
What would you do if your friends were exhibiting signs of depression? How would you respond if someone told you that he was thinking about suicide?
Whether you are old, young, or somewhere in between, no amount of life experience can help you feel adequately prepared to deal with that information. Which is why the Character and Leadership Academy (CLA) has spearheaded The Gatekeeping Lives Movement, a new initiative that aims to reduce global suicide rates and increase mental health awareness among ASEAN youth, and in Singapore.
One way that they do this is by using QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training to equip youths between the age of 16 to 25 to recognise signs of stress, anxiety, and suicidal ideation amongst their peers. From there, they can either help them, or encourage them to find a professional who can.
The Gatekeeping Lives programme was inspired in part by the CLA’s HappYouth programme, which aimed to equip youth in Singapore to manage stress and to deal with their emotions. Executive Director of CLA, Delane Lim, shared that earlier this year, they started The Gatekeeping Lives movement after hearing from parents who were concerned about their children.
“Our Board decided that it is important to train our youths to be gatekeepers so that they can help themselves and keep a lookout for those around them,” he said, emphasising that being a “life gatekeeper is everyone’s responsibility.”
“Gatekeepers can be anyone, who are strategically positioned to recognize and refer someone at risk of suicide… We do not select or choose the youths. All are welcomed as long as they are keen to be gatekeepers of their own lives and the lives of those around them - their family, relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours.
“In fact we hope many youths will be trained to be gatekeepers. Our mission is to reduce suicidal behaviours and save lives by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training. The signs of crisis are all around us. We believe that quality education empowers all people, regardless of their background, to make a positive difference in the life of someone they know.”
Trainings are held in person, as they require role playing scenarios, experiential learning activities, and adventure-based therapy – all of which are more effectively taught offline than online.
During the movement’s official launch in September 2022, the first 50 youths who were appointed as Gatekeepers were presented with certificates. One of them was Nguyen Thao Nhi, 24, a Vietnamese national who moved to Singapore 10 years ago on an A*STAR scholarship.
But despite the prestige, she struggled.
“During my first few years, I was in extreme stress due to the unfamiliar and competitive environment, to the point that I felt like I had lost my true identity,” Thao Ni shared with us in an interview. “I was not close to my family then and actually argued with them every time I was on the phone. After secondary and going to JC, having a much stronger support base (from teachers, family members and friends) helped me to adapt better.”
Today, Thao Ni is actively looking for ways to offer that same support to her peers. Here’s what she had to share about her journey:
What made you decide to undergo the QPR Gatekeeper training?
I have been following CLA’s events and knew about this workshop for a long time. There was one instance when a close junior of mine shared that he had been in depression and lack of motivation to continue. I spent lots of time talking to him and tried to help him out of his depression bubble. That was when I realized that there are real life cases where people need help from Gatekeepers.
The last few years of COVID-19 restrictions must have been especially tough on Gen Z. Can you share more about how missing certain milestones affected you and your peers?
COVID did not affect me as much as others, because I have always been deeply involved in the Vietnamese youth community in Singapore, so although we were ‘stuck’ here, we stuck together. I still had friends who I could talk to.
However, I think COVID was especially tough for those who were sick/ whose student pass got cut off/ whose family in Vietnam suffered loss or crisis. They could not fly back due to restrictions and hence were in a very bad mental state. There was also the problem of xenophobia against Vietnamese in Singapore after the KTV incident. Additionally, Vietnam did not happily welcome expats back because they were believed to bring COVID into VN. The feeling that your country rejected you really made us scholars feel bad. yea
Tell us what it was like to undergo the Gatekeeper training. Were there any misconceptions you had about mental health prior to the training, and what did you learn in the process?
[In the training] I particularly enjoyed the role play. Practicing the skills and helping others out made me feel fulfilled.
The only misunderstanding I had was that I should not directly ask others if they were thinking about suicide. However, QPR taught me otherwise.
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt about being there for someone who is struggling with their mental health?
Those who are struggling with mental health can look perfectly normal on the outside. However, you need to look out for tell-tale signs and approach them.
Understand that mental health is not a weakness of character. A helping hand can go a long way.