Mental Health & Mental Wellness



Mental Wellness and Resilience 1

Monday, 13 December 2021 - Framed around the effects of fast-paced changes and related challenges on “live-work-play” trends, Active Health’s latest series of webinars feature key industry experts and thought leaders as they navigate trending topics to harness health and wellness in building a high performing individual. This webinar, part of a monthly series, focused on mental wellness and resilience. The engaging fireside chat featured Adj Assoc Prof Lee Cheng (Senior Consultant, Psychiatrist; Clinical Director, Population Health, Institute of Mental Health) and Roanne Ho (Former TeamSG Swimmer; Senior Business Analyst, Head of APAC Operations, Portas Consulting). During the session, the speakers engaged in a lively discussion centred around the importance of mental wellbeing, the association between mental health and physical activity, as well as some strategies to improve our mental resilience at work and at home.



Dr Lee started off the discussion by explaining the concepts of mental health and mental illness, explaining that while these two concepts are commonly conflated, mental health and mental illness are distinct from each other. What separates these two concepts is the support system (or lack thereof) that the individual has access to.

Mental health and physical health are correlated

While the World Health Organization often quipped that there is “No Health without Mental Health”, Dr Lee strongly believed that physical health and mental health share a symbiotic relationship. He pointed out that individuals with chronic medical conditions are unlikely to feel happy; similarly, individuals with lacklustre mental health are less likely to be motivated to self-care properly, resulting in the neglect of their physical wellbeing.

In light of this, Dr Lee stressed the importance of relationships and how it contributes to one’s physical and mental health. He cited the anecdotal example of how his physical activities, which include a social element, strengthened familial bonds aside from keeping him physically active.

Additionally, Dr Lee also elaborated on the physiological changes that the body undergoes during physical activities which aid mental health. During exercise, the release of hormones like endorphin and dopamine contribute to the sense of happiness and achievement. Such feelings are imperative to maintain and/or improve mental health. Nonetheless, Dr Lee cautioned us to be mindful of overexertion to reduce the risk of injuries.

Roanne affirmed that while physical activity does feel rewarding, in her experience, it is only truly relieving when one is intrinsically motivated. Citing her personal experience whilst training at an elite level, she mused that the last thing on her mind would be to go through it again immediately, especially after a tiring and arduous day of physical training.

Looking beyond achievements

Reflecting on the various and constant measurements of data points as an athlete from speed and power to medals and body fat percentage, Roanne admitted that she felt more like a statistic than a human being. She mentioned that if left unchecked, performance evaluation can become binary and stressful.

To cope with that experience, Roanne shared the advice from her sports psychologist, “If you look at yourself holistically, it is not just what you do at work; but also what you do outside.”

She learned that if one only focused on whether he/she had met his/her key performance indicators (KPIs), it can become unhealthy, as the individual would, unfortunately, peg his/her worth based on KPIs met.

The role of mental resilience in our lives

According to Dr Lee, resilience refers to the ability to bounce back and recover after adversity. He believed that adversity is widely accepted as part and parcel of our lives. While most agree that a certain amount of stress can contribute to better performances, this only holds true until individuals approach a threshold. Once individuals reach their own inflexion points, their performances would likely plateau and decline.

The idea is thus that individuals learn to manage the stress before approaching that threshold and plateau. Dr Lee asserted that there is no such thing as being stress-free, considering that stress can come from a variety of places like work, family, and relationship commitments. The commonly neglected source of stress actually comes internally stress which stems from a desire to perform better. This form of stress is harder to recognize and can lead to the formation of NATs - Negative Automatic Thoughts. Dr Lee thereby concluded that in order to build resilience, one has to address these external and internal stress factors.

Roanne concurred with Dr Lee’s explanation of NATs. She recalled a period in her life when she was unable to help her parents carry groceries as she was recuperating from a collapsed lung. Her inability to help her parents grew into a sense of helplessness. Looking back, she found such NATs irrational, considering that she was still pushing herself hard despite a life-threatening condition.

The injuries that Roanne sustained were devastating, considering that they occurred in the lead up to major sporting events like the Olympics and the SEA Games. She revealed that she broke down after learning that she had to stop training for six weeks post-surgery, completely oblivious to the fact that her life was at stake. She expressed her gratitude to the support system in place during her recovery period.

Sports can build resilience

Through her injuries, Roanne learned to take things one step at a time, to control what is within one’s means, and to have an optimistic outlook despite being in a bleak circumstance. 

“In sports, there will be times when you win, and times when you lose. We have to learn to accept that we are not always going to be the best,” Roanne added. “You will always learn more from a bad race than a good one.” 

She believed that a bad experience might not actually be a bad thing because there are some takeaways that she can learn from. Adopting this mindset helped her manage subsequent bad experiences.

Mental health in workplaces should not be ignored

There is a Chinese saying that states, “opportunity arises from crisis”. While the ongoing pandemic has contributed to rising stress in the general public, Dr Lee observed that it has also led to a more open and frank discussion about mental health. “Now, a lot of the focus is on how to recognize stress and its symptoms; how to talk to someone with mental health distress.”

Dr Lee felt encouraged to see the establishment of more mental health support systems within workplaces to help employees. He stressed that if employees are not supported mentally, they may only be physically present at work - their minds are preoccupied! This might increase the likelihood of poor performances - not only for the individual, but also for the team.

Dr Lee then shared some tips for effective mental health support systems, the foundation of which is good communication. He observed that many assume that the other party understood what they were trying to say. Thus, he recommended not keeping things too brief so as to prevent misinterpretation.

Respect is the next key concept. Not only should it be mutual, but Dr Lee also suggested that differences in one another’s opinions should be respected. In attempts to bring points across, there might be an unconscious tendency to be dismissive of alternative views. Maintaining one’s professionalism despite the clash of stances is therefore of utmost importance when it comes to fostering a healthy workplace environment.

For employers, Dr Lee urged the importance of consistency. This is because the staff on the ground implementing the processes require some form of firm, consistent advice. Dr Lee’s final advice was for employers to not be stingy with their praise. “Singaporeans tend to complain more than praise.” Being more generous with the dispensing of compliments can help employees feel better and more motivated.

MentalState KeyTakeaways

The different domains of stress

Dr Lee then elaborated on the main domains of stress:

  • Physical
    • Being physically tired, inability to sleep (insomnia), poor appetite, etc.
  • Psychological/Emotional
    • Feeling depressed, feeling tearful and confused, inability to concentrate and relax, etc.
  • Behavioural
    • Temperamental, irritable, impulsive, violent, etc.
  • Cognitive
    • Irrational thinking process

Dr Lee recommended that any individual exhibiting these symptoms (subsequently affecting his/her work and/or relationship management) should seek help. It could be as simple as talking to a family member, friend, or even a colleague that he/she can trust. He explained that prolonged stress can definitely lead to burnout or even pandemic fatigue in the current landscape. He urged people who have started developing thoughts of self-harm to consult a psychiatrist as soon as possible.

➤ Watch the Session Highlights below:

Whether you are a resident, a young family, or someone who is just looking to go on a self-discovery journey, Active Health has a lot of curated programs and tips on how to proactively manage your own health and wellness. Individuals who are interested in finding out how they can start their health and wellness journey with Active Health can sign up for a fitness and health assessment or interactive workshop today.

The latest Active Health Discovery Zone is now open at Decathlon Northshore. Here, one can learn how to move, eat, and rest from Active Health Coaches who are allied health professionals at Active Health Labs located island-wide for preventive healthcare and exercise advisory. Designed to enable Singaporeans to live life to the fullest, Active Health is powered by sports science and principles from the Exercise is Medicine©, a global initiative by the American College of Sports Medicine, around the four health and wellness domains of physical activity, nutrition, sleep and screen time management.

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Topics: Physical Activity