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Celebrating Triumph & Determination

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Celebrating Triumph & Determination

Mental Muscle is a student led initiative run by a group of medical students from the National University of Singapore, with a common vision to serve the Mental Health community. The initial team of four close friends founded Mental Muscle back in the Summer of 2015, with the aim to raise Mental Health Awareness in the community. They completed their 250km Sahara Race in the Namib Desert in the Summer of 2016 and raised a total of $44,939.51 for programmes run by SAMH. The baton was passed to a new team of six later that year. The new team consists of Keith Ching, Navkaran Singh, Hargaven Singh, Huang Juncheng, Thaddaeus Tan and Ho Jun Kiat, aged between 21 to 22. In December 2016, they ran the 200km trail in the mountainous regions of Kathmandu, Nepal. They hope that through this race it will personify the psychological difficulties faced by individuals with mental health issues.

Why did you choose this cause?

Through our yearly involvement in a myriad of local and overseas Community Involvement Programmes (CIP), we were exposed to the intrinsic and intangible psychological needs both patients and caregivers faced. Many of these issues were unjustifiably regarded as taboo topics, or invoked such a strong sense of vulnerability that they never surfaced.

Through our psychiatry rotation in medical school, we learnt that Mental Health Issues caused great morbidity for the patient and their families alike, for which stigma was a significant proportion of it. We thus saw value in continuing the efforts of our seniors to champion the Mental Health community and further our partnership with SAMH.

What were some of the challenges face?

Physically training for a 200km ultramarathon was difficult. Some of us were training for concurrent Sports’ tournaments during the same timeframe, and others had yet to run their first full marathon.

Finding sponsorship for equipment and nutrition for our relatively new project was a challenge, due to a lack of track records for sponsors to rely on for judgement.

Acquiring donations required tremendous effort and publicity to generate trust and belief in our donors for our meaningful cause. SAMH was very supportive and provided us with opportunities to speak to their higher management and partners to share our story, journey and project.

What kind of outcomes have you seen since organising this project?

Our efforts for 2016/2017 were directed towards YouthReach of SAMH. We have raised $36,000 as of December 2016, far surpassing our target of $25,000. Our donation drive for YouthReach closes in July 2017 and we will be continuing our fundraising efforts till then.

As of December 2016, Mental Muscle had officially completed its second ultramarathon in Kathmandu, Nepal, running 200km in just five days! That is equivalent to five full marathons in five days.

In October 2016, Mental Muscle was awarded the Singhealth Medical Student Talent Development Award (SMSTDA) for community involvement and development. This provided recognition, support, and a $5,000 funding boost for our project.

Media platforms have also increasingly recognised the efforts of Mental Muscle. In 2016, The Straits Times published an article on the relevance and value of Mental Muscle in our community. Subsequently in 2017, the Singapore Medical Association published an article in the SMA Magazine, recognising the value our project brought to the community. Other media features for Mental Muscle over the course of two years include: CNA radio interview, Vasantham’s News Channel, Run Magazine, JustRunLah! and NUS MediCine Newsletter.

With regards to our awareness campaigns, we have published interviews on Facebook of individuals battling mental health issues and their journey. This is in addition to regular news articles and sharing posted on Facebook, Instagram and our website.

With studies and training, how did you balance both and still have time for yourself?

At some point, it becomes a matter of priorities and deciding what matters more. For us, being both good medical students and advocates for Mental Muscle were important. The 200km trail run was a few weeks before our fourth year professional exams, but our team collectively saw the need to allot time and effort for a cause bigger than ourselves. Having supportive mentors and camaraderie in the team also played a huge role in helping us balance our commitments.

What advice would you share with other young volunteers who want to start a fundraising/outreach project like this?

Kickstarting a new initiative will always be difficult. A clear purpose, vision and passion are only some of the many ingredients required of you to see it to fruition. A committed team of individuals are necessary, and supportive mentors and staff are a blessing, such as the ones we have had the pleasure to have. Throughout the journey, never give up be tenacious, and your plans will materialise!

What can society do to support people with mental health issues?

Stigma is a significant portion of the burden and morbidity that individuals and families of those with Mental Health issues face. To be supportive of them through our kind words, helpful gestures, job opportunities and any other means, will not only help them in their recovery, but it will also nudge those undiagnosed and struggling with similar issues to step forth and seek help. We need to be inclusive, cohesive and supportive as a community if we ever hope to achieve the ideals of a truly inclusive and meritocratic society.

Thanks!

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