Huang Xuewen oversees mental health programmes targeted at children and youths in his role as Manager, Mental Health, Preventive Health Programmes. He is a Health Promotion Board Local Mid-term Scholar and holds a Bachelor in Social Science.
Established in 2001, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) is a government organisation committed to promoting healthy living in Singapore. And while it may have started out focussing on physical health with programmes like the National Steps Challenge, it does not overlook the importance of mental wellbeing.
Fostering the importance of maintaining a healthy mind is Huang Xuewen’s top priority. While his position as Manager of Preventative Health Programmes may sound lofty, he works very much “on the ground”, developing mental health programmes for students and ensuring a supportive environment for their growth.
A Small, Heartfelt Change
“Replacing an assembly talk with an assembly musical performance is definitely one of them,” said the HPB Local Mid-term Scholar, when asked about his greatest achievements. “It might only be a small programme, but the difference in audience engagement was astounding. The talk was not effective, and students at the back were usually dozing off. When I observed the first run of the musical performance that was to replace the talk, everyone was engaged, and some were even clapping along.”
A seemingly small change that makes a big difference – that’s what the study of psychology means to Xuewen, who argues that public health is psychology applied on a population level.
His current scope of work includes overseeing mental health programmes targeted at children and youths from preschool to secondary. He reviews the content and delivery of programmes to ensure that students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to manage stress and emotions, as well as to transit smoothly during critical transition points in their educational phase.
“Psychology is the study of human behaviours and thought processes, and public health applies this knowledge to try to nudge individuals of a population into making good choices for their health,” he elaborated.
The Healthiest Choice
Hence, when he picked up a BrightSparks booklet at a scholarship fair, he was immediately intrigued by HPB. Up till that point, he had been studying psychology for love of the science, with no idea how it could be applied to his future career.
As he had already started university, he took the opportunity to apply for HPB Mid-Term Scholarship in keeping with his own belief that you should “pursue a scholarship only if the organisation aligns with your vision and what you would like to do”. This provided him with the chance to apply his studies in a practical field.
“Reading about HPB, I could see how what I am studying then could be applied and it really excited me,” he recalled. “It struck me as a meaningful vocation where I will be able to empower Singaporeans to have better health.
“In a sense, it is like being a pre-doctor if you know what I mean. I was surprised that I had not considered HPB before I read about the scholarship.”
He soon discovered the link between theoretical study and practical application, as his university education equipped him with theories and frameworks that guided him in his work at Mental Health Education department. He was also exposed to basic statistics as part of his university course, which helped him analyse data and evaluate his programmes with substantial hypothesis testing.
Fact-finding is another vital skill he gained. “Most of the information can be found online, but knowing what key words to use and how to find reliable information is an important skill that I honed in University,” he said.
However, Xuewen cautioned against simply treating the university as a place to soak up knowledge. “Do not take your work too seriously,” he advised us solemnly. “I neglected socialising much with my course mates during my university days. I did make a few acquaintances here and there but I did not invest much in those relationships as I was spending a bit too much time on my studies.”
Words of Advice
Hence, he is incredibly grateful to HPB for its friendly and caring work culture, where people are more than colleagues but friends who meet up and look out for each other.
“Personally, I would sometimes leave a drink and a note at someone’s desk if I knew they were going through a particularly stressful week. Others have done the same for me, and it really fuels me,” he described.
For those looking to join in the friendly and fulfilling work, Xuewen has some practical words of advice. “Learn about what HPB does and read up about one or two of our bigger programmes (e.g. National Steps Challenge and Healthier Choice Symbol). Think about some pros and cons of the way these have been executed, and identify some things you would do to improve them.
“This would demonstrate your interest in the job, and your ability to do what we do in a programmes department day-to-day; evaluate and improve programmes.”
Putting his knowledge of people to good use in another capacity, Xuewen is a huge fan of social deduction games like Werewolf, Secret Hitler, and Avalon!