River Valley High School

A murder on July 19, 2021, at River Valley High School shocked Singapore to the core. Screengrab from River Valley High School Facebook.

Bad and still worse is how I’d describe the barrage of local news over the last week.

First, details on the Covid-19 cluster at karaoke lounges (KTV) spilled out. As the background to it was uncovered, I thought to myself that the whole episode showed up the underbelly of our society in such an in-your-face way as few things had.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung diplomatically called it a “troubling and disappointing” situation. On the streets, the sentiment was decidedly one of pure disgust. Recriminatory videos posted on YouTube by local personality Kim Huat (aka Mr Brown) went viral, and society at large gave its hoot of assent.

The regular person, it seemed, held himself above it all.

Worse to come

Not many days later, it surfaced that this cluster had seeded another – at Jurong Fishery Port, which in turn had burgeoned to reach Hong Lim Market & Food Centre. Complacency and lax regulation were faulted.

There is an intense, more sinister, battle we have long been staging: The contest for mental wellness among our people.

As at press time (July 20), the Jurong Fishery/KTV cluster stood at 519. Singapore today chalked up a record daily high of 182 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases, sending us back into Phase 2 restrictions.

Even so, the enormity of its implications on our daily lives could not match our collective disbelief at news yesterday (July 19) that a murder had been committed at one of our schools. An axe is alleged to have been wielded by a 16-year-old student at River Valley High School on his 13-year-old junior.

The horror of it all has not made its larger impact as yet.

What the news reports have done, meanwhile, is unveil the intense, more sinister, battle we have long been staging: The contest for mental wellness among our people.

The alleged perpetrator was found to have an IMH record for attempted suicide in 2019.

And yet, his story is less of an anomaly than we’d like to believe.

Sobering stats

According to a 2016 study done by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), nearly one in 14 among us will develop mental illness in our lifetime. That having been said, IMH studies have also shown that “religious coping actually improves the quality of life”.

“The body needs to take medicine. The soul needs counselling and community support. The spirit needs to connect to God.”

Sharing these findings at the inaugural Christian Mental Health Conference 2021 last week, the IMH CEO, Adjunct Associate Professor Daniel Fung, cited individuals with psychosis as an example.

They “actually benefit from greater community support and collaboration between clinical and religious community-based organisations, in terms of overall integration as well as quality of life”, he said.

It’s a truth the Church has regarded as fundamental since the Gospels bore record of Jesus’ interaction with the mentally unsound.

As recently as last September, at the Salt&Light Family Night episode on depression, Pastor Chua Seng Lee, Deputy Pastor of Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church, reminded the audience that every mental health problem is a spiritual problem.

“Why do I say that? Because we are all spiritual beings,” he said, advocating a whole-person approach to healing that goes back to biblical basics.

“The body needs to take medicine. The soul needs counselling and community support. The spirit needs to connect to God. We need to continue our worship and, in some cases, our repentance.”

We’re in it together

Take note that the operative word is “our” – and especially now, because redemption is a prospect that can draw near for those who find themselves unable to look up and lift their heads up. (Luke 21:28)

Far be it from us, then, to be so naïve as to think bad and still worse things do not happen in our Singapore.

Better if we acknowledge that we are, one and all, capable of reckless living and even murder – whether in thought, word or deed. We might be careful to steer away from the taint of a criminal record, but we’ve all got blood on our hands we cannot wash away ourselves. (Romans 3:23)

He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.

And while we’re at it, let’s be mindful that, time and again and through various expressions, Jesus said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)

The wonder of God’s mercy is that He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)

“Fatigued” might be such a buzz words these days, but it’s not new. In Simon Peter’s encounter with the Lord’s command to “launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught”, he offered: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.”

Bone-weary he must have been; however, he continued: “Nevertheless at Thy Word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5:4-5)

What came upon Peter and his fellow disciples thereafter was a multitudinous catch of fish, and the fearsome realisation that he, a mere man, was in the presence of the holy God.

In our time we still are called to be fishers of men. The good news of the kingdom of God stands (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), as does the call for it to be preached to all (Matthew 28:19). That commission is called “great” for the reason that it is beyond us to fulfil on our own.

But take heart. Jesus said: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)


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About the author

Emilyn Tan

Emilyn once spent morning, noon and night in newsrooms. She gave it up to spend morning, noon and night at home, in the hope that someday she’d have an epiphany of God with His hands in the suds, washing the dishes too.

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