Navigating the world of social work with Asher Low

Written by Angel, Edited by Athena

Social work: A highly respectable field in which social workers bring aid in different forms to people from all walks of life, from helplines to counselling services.

A 2016 study by the Singapore Mental Health Study (SMHS) states that 1 in 7 Singaporeans have experienced a mood, anxiety or alcohol disorder in their lifetime.

To help those suffering from mental health issues, social workers access and address the key issues faced by the community. They render help through a multitude of ways, and most importantly – acknowledge that mental health issues are things that can affect an individual.

They strive to work with youth, the community, society in terms of providing solutions, a listening ear and a safe space, to give those who struggle with their mental health a way to find themselves again and recover. As Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) has just passed, we shine a light on Asher Low, social worker and co-founder of Limitless, who deep-dives into the area of mental health long after any month or week commemorates it.

In sunny Singapore, the “kiasu” (fear of losing out) mentality thrives alongside other variables that many seem to use as indicators of their success. Hence, it’s normal that people feel a sense of trepidation when it comes to opening up about their mental health issues for fear of judgement and fewer job opportunities. In recent times, the mental health scene in Singapore has shifted, bringing reality out of its shadowed, stigmatized roots. There is a general consensus that acknowledging and working towards mental wellness is integral to a healthy and functioning human who is capable of productivity in work and daily life, coupled with the increasing prevalence of mental health services and social media accounts dedicated to healthily positive affirmations and motivational posts.

 Asher Low, who was named one of Straits Times’ Generation Grit Recipients, is a millennial who pioneers campaigns to enhance mental health awareness for youth in Singapore, seeking to “even out the scales” with non-profit organisation, Limitless. Limitless specialises in empowering youths to fulfill their potential, regardless of their background, circumstance or history. A passionate team at Limitless provides a myriad of avenues for these youths through their “Rise, Inspire, Seek and Empower” framework. This is done through mental health awareness programmes, therapy work and connecting youths to a network of care for youth and their families to integrate them into society.

“The removal of mental health related questions from job application forms and the decriminalisation of suicide only gives testament that the Singaporean government is aware of the severity of mental health issues. The awareness of mental health issues and funding towards this sector is done in the good steed of Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) such as Anthea Ong.”, states Asher. It is heartening to see that the rise in spreading awareness and training provided for professionals and the public is able to impact many more people.

As a form of rest and relaxation, Limitless also hosts social programmes. These programmes include dance, music and sports programmes. Through simple yet fun activities, they encourage youth to enjoy themselves and maybe even develop hobbies to engage in regularly. 

Having experienced some form of depression and anxiety in my formative years, I understand the importance of these seemingly minuscule activities in those fighting mental health issues. For me, exercise and dance were my sanctuary. I started small, just running ten minutes a day. Slowly, I formed a daily workout schedule that held me accountable and allowed me to build better habits. I found something to improve in and work on, boosting my self confidence and happiness each time I felt progress in my stamina and strength. However, I understand that it sure as hell takes trying out different methods to find what works for individuals to battle the demons that manifest from mental health problems.

This is where organisations like Limitless swoop in to fight alongside us.

A passionate team at Limitless provides a myriad of avenues for these youths through their “Rise, Inspire, Seek and Empower” framework.

 While setting up a social enterprise in Singapore surely has its constraints, Asher and his team at Limitless put their minds together to create that safer space for the creation of programmes that massage life into the discourse of mental health and its shadowed past in Singapore. With that, however, came certain obstacles to overcome, and the primary one for Limitless was the financial aspect. 

“We want to work directly with the beneficiaries, but there is difficulty in impacting lives and making profit at the same time. We moved from a social enterprise model to a completely non-profit charity based model within the first few months of trial and error”, he starts. Noting that the mental health sector has garnered more attention and support over the past few years, Asher is grateful for all the support Limitless has received as a relatively young organisation that began in 2018.

As Singapore continues to strive for better mental health for its population, there lies the risk of developing a very much commercialised, one-size-fits-all approach to mental health issues and discourse – much like how medical professionals treat common colds and fevers nowadays. Mental health encompasses so much more than our body’s cells fighting against the virus and bacterial cells. The human psyche is a vulnerable and volatile place, especially for those experiencing mental health issues. These issues manifest in various ways in different people, so providing a treatment requires a carefully planned individualised and authentic approach. 

“I believe that we are moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health issues, with the integration of recovery-focused treatment and peer support specialists in hospitals and community service agencies. Besides Limitless, key players such as Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) Youthreach, Creative Say and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH)’s CHAT are spearheading individualised approaches to a host of mental health issues.”, Asher notes with a glint of hope that these organisations are better able to aid and equip youths in Singapore with management methods for their mental wellness. Limitless aims to help more youths with mental health issues in the coming years, which I am all here for!

Social work is no farce. The selflessness and bravery of social workers in Limitless knows no bounds, as they spend their days making sure the youth who come to them are properly cared for and supported. Like every other working individual, it is quintessential for these social workers to establish a work-life balance so that they too can enjoy their own time for them and their families. Despite that, when the topics dealt with at work are so close to one’s heart and mind, how does Asher (or a social worker) establish said work- life balance?

“Well, I really make an effort to draw the line between my work and life by only responding to emergencies if it happens to fall on the weekends. I take my family time very seriously.” Even in discussing more light- hearted matters, Asher remains a deeply passionate individual who has a heart for others. 

Asher is not one to shy from Korean dramas too, which are all the rage these days. However, his entertainment choices are guided by the “straight-forward and simple”, as he prefers to steer away from documentaries relating to mental illnesses and “messy Korean dramas” lest they bring up stories of work that hit a little too close to home.

“It’s one of those career choices where you know you’ll have to make sacrifices and sometimes on a consistent basis.”

I aspire to serve youths just as Asher does, to bring light into their world impactfully. To do this, I would need skills to be able to render my services efficiently, to impact as many youths as I can in my lifetime. Be it entrepreneurial or business skills, Asher no doubt has what it takes to run a non-profit organisation.

“I’ve been doing youth work and social work since my post-National Service days, which is completely unrelated to my diploma in Business Management. I experimented a lot in this journey of starting Limitless, but I have to thank my mentors in the non-profit and corporate sector for guiding me and being the ones who played a major role in making limitless possible.” His words only serve as a reminder that our studies need not have to be directly related to our line of work, but that experience and guidance are the essential game changers in any career.

For those aspiring to become a social worker or are keen in working in the mental health sector, Asher notes that there are a myriad of career opportunities for those with a degree in social work. 

It takes a calling and passion to enter this line of work and interact directly with clients. Sacrifices have to be made, and sometimes on a consistent basis. If you believe in living a life for more than yourself, then it will be worthwhile to become a social worker and see the impact of your work on another person’s life.

Keep up with Asher’s vision and Limitless over here and here, and keep an eye out for Angel’s action-oriented messages over here!

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