Got a problem? Send an e-mail

PHOTO: Got a problem? Send an e-mail

A trained counsellor at the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) - with a possible solution to your woes - is just a few clicks away.

And today's wired youth seem to be finding this a more suitable way to seek help.

Figures from SOS indicate that more troubled young people are turning to its Email Befriending service for emotional support compared to five years ago.

Instead of talking to counsellors on the SOS hotline or attending face-to-face counselling sessions, they are increasingly choosing to e-mail their problems to the organisation.

Its e-mail service started in July 2003.

In its last financial year, from April 2011 to March 2012, SOS attended to 774 people who sent 3,690 e-mails to the service.

This is almost five times the 765 e-mails that it received five years ago, from 227 people.

Those below 30 years of age are most likely to use e-mail. They make up about 70 per cent of those who turn to the Email Befriending service.

Relationship problems, including family, boy-girl and marital, are among the main issues young people have raised.

Such problems make up about one-third of the e-mails.

Depression and other mental issues were mentioned in about 25 per cent of the e-mails.

Experts The New Paper spoke to said a more Internet-savvy younger generation is one of the reasons for the trend.

"A lot more youths are wired up now," said Ms Rachel Yeo, a senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services.

"As long as you have a smartphone, you can go for counselling anywhere without anyone's knowledge." The option of anonymity is also a key factor.

Said Ms Yeo: "Youths facing problems may not want to see a counsellor face-to-face because they may feel the stigma of doing so.

"Some could be also embarrassed or shy to talk about their problems so they are more comfortable with e-mail." 

While online counselling services may have a greater reach, it may not measure up to face-to-face counselling, said Singapore Children's Society executive director Alfred Tan.

"Words alone may not give counsellors the full impression of the client. It may be difficult for the counsellors to size up their clients because of limited vocabulary, or just the lack of any body language," he said.

Face-to-face counselling

Ms Yeo agrees. "We will never know who the service users are so we will never be able to reach out to anyone else other than the person himself," she said.

"The difference in face-to-face counselling is that you get to meet the youth, his family and his friends so that you can understand the youth himself much better."

SOS executive director Christine Wong said an increase in its Email Befriending service users does not necessarily mean a dip in clients who seek more conventional forms of counselling.

"At the same time, the number of incoming calls through the 24-hour hotline has increased by 7 per cent. The number of face-to-face counselling clients has also seen an increase of 9.5 per cent," she said.

People who are feeling troubled or need a listening ear can e-mail SOS at pat@samaritans.org.sg.

They will receive replies within two working days. The public can also call the 24-hour SOS hotline at 1800-221-4444.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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