Youth mental health is only being seriously considered now after the River Valley High School tragedy last July, but it’s at least a step in the right direction. Knowing that there are already people like Ng Yi-Xian and Navin Amarasuriya who have been advocating mindfulness and meditation for adolescents for years is reassuring.
When they last graced our pages, they discussed the challenges of running family businesses. In Ng’s case, it was his role as executive director of EtonHouse International Education Group, while in Amarasuriya’s case, it was his responsibilities as head of jewellery brand Risis, a subsidiary of his family’s B. P. de Silva Holdings. Today, they have a shared passion for developing and introducing mental health programmes into schools around the world.
By collaborating with the US-based Contentment Foundation – where Amarasuriya serves as chief operating officer – EtonHouse now offers a variety of mindfulness programmes to help students and teachers improve their emotional well-being. Together, they also work closely as members of the EtonHouse Community Fund.
With young people’s volatility, teaching them to manage their emotions is an obvious benefit, but it is easy to forget that these skills are also beneficial for adults. “It’s important to encourage people to unpack all their deep, painful stuff because it makes them stronger,” advises Amarasuriya. “We need to de-stigmatise seeking help. If you had leg pain, no one would blame you for going to the hospital, but it’s not the same for someone with emotional pain. So Ng and I have been very open about how we seek help when we need it.”
Ng offers the recent Raeesah Khan scandal as an example. “A friend asked me why it always seemed like mental health issues showed up whenever someone was in legal trouble,” he says, referring to Khan’s admission that she suffers from dissociation. “There has always been a problem with these issues, but people are more aware of them now. They do not absolve us from our actions, but they show us that more work needs to be done in this area.”
If we honestly considered it, we would realise that we witnessed such issues in and around us when we were in school, he continues. We just didn’t have the vocabulary to identify them, much less the tools to deal with them.
However, the pandemic definitely led to an increase in mindfulness and meditation practices. “The Great Resignation showed us how people snapped out of their comfortable numbness,” says Amarasuriya. “They asked themselves: ‘What is the point of all this, why am I here and what am I doing with my life?’ All of these are good questions to ask, and the sooner we ask and live them, the more we will discover the great mystery of life.”
Ng agrees we could all do with more gentleness and curiosity in our heads, but urges us to find out what works for us. A new father of two (and one more on the way), Ng knows how difficult it can be to carve out even a few minutes of alone time. “Don’t limit yourself to just one kind of practice. Also, don’t pay too much attention to experts. Boundaries, however, are okay. Decide what works for you.”