Passion for social work: How a 26-year-old chose to switch careers to support youths in the mental health space
While it may seem like a big jump to many, Dominic Ng never regretted his decision to enter the social work industry.
If you asked a younger Dominic Ng whether he would be willing to make a career jump away from film production, there is a high chance of him rejecting that notion.
Little would he know that his 26-year-old self would make the switch. Now, he regularly commits to social causes and mental health conversations among youths.
Originally from Temasek Polytechnic’s Diploma in Digital Film & Production, Dominic first further pursued filmmaking full-time as a production assistant after completing National Service. While he was finally working in an industry he spent years studying for, some doubts still remained at the back of his mind.
Film is something that he enjoys and holds close to his heart. However, the “muscle work” used when assisting with its production “does not come naturally”.
“My background is in filmmaking, but I’ve always wondered if there was something more that I could do,” he shares.
In an attempt to find that “natural talent”, Dominic began exploring different industries and eventually stumbled into the world of social work when mindlessly browsing through volunteering opportunities in Singapore. This was how he began his journey in the new field, where he eventually became more involved in initiatives like Homeless Hearts of Singapore, Open Home Network and The Singapore Association for the Deaf.
It was through his volunteering stints that Dominic was able to participate in door-to-door outreaches – a process that he was familiar with due to his past experiences with doing location recce for film productions.
He was not fully aware of how much he enjoyed reaching out and supporting people in need until much later in his volunteering journey.
“I had always wished that these door-to-door conversations would last longer, or that I could meet these people in another capacity. Things did not become clear to me until I started volunteering more,” he recounts.
His social work endeavours reached greater heights after he began actively volunteering as a helpline care officer at Youthline – Singapore’s first youth-dedicated live helpline.
With the aim of becoming an integrated youth service, Youthline operates three different “pillars” comprising a live helpline, free counselling sessions and a peer mentoring programme. Each is meant to provide youths with a safe, confidential space where they can get a listening ear and the necessary support for their situations.
Having only joined the volunteering team in February, Dominic first heard of the youth service when assisting in a commercial shoot for the organisation. Although he was briefed on its workings and the helpline service, he initially did not think much of it as the shoot “seemed like just another day of work”.
His mindset only changed after watching the commercial on the big screen for the first time. As someone that had previously used mental health hotlines, the idea to volunteer with Youthline soon clicked and he decided to go for it.
As a helpline care officer, Dominic spends each volunteer shift attending to youths that call, email or text in. Each conversation ranges from one to two hours on average, with some even lasting up to three or more when dealing with “higher-risk” cases.
Each youth’s mental health situation and coping mechanism is different, and he has to take various approaches to get youths to open up, redirect their emotions and place them in a better, more stable mental mindset. Be it sending the youth comic strips, using dark humour or bantering about K-pop to them, such methods divert from the typical breathing and calming down exercises and help let them know that they are seen on the other end of the line.
“It’s one thing to learn psychological first aid. But at the end of the day when we’re going on the helplines, the person we’re talking to is a real person. It’s not like ChatGPT where we can predict what youths are going to say.”
On top of his commitments to Youthline, Dominic is also a part-time Higher Diploma in Social Services student at the Social Service Institute. Initially meant to be just “a step into a new industry”, his studies there became a major factor to his eventual decision to jump from a career in filmmaking to one in social work.
When asked of his loved ones’ reactions to his career switch, he shares that while most were surprised initially, they were still supportive towards the transition. His parents and friends encouraged him to explore other parts of himself, especially those that spark his “natural talent”.
At the end of the day, things managed to work out. Not only has he begun devoting much to social causes – be it through volunteering, studying or attending engagement sessions, he now has the resources to help the people around him should they be interested in picking up volunteering as well.
“When my friends tell me about wanting to explore these areas, the me two years ago would have simply told them to visit SkillsFuture or something. Now I can name them the social causes or proper institutions where they can pick up the relevant skills,” he says.
Overall, making the transition to any new industry will never be smooth-sailing, but his choice allowed him to meet many from all walks of life and inspire others to care for social causes.
Despite dedicating much of his time pursuing social work, Dominic still holds a soft spot for his filmmaking background. While he no longer assists in film production full-time, he still picks up freelance work for it every so often.
One might expect his schedule to be packed due to the sheer amount of commitments, but he is thankful for Youthline’s shift flexibility and continues to prioritise his school and work ahead of all other matters.
“Sometimes I do wonder whether what I’ve done for filmmaking has gone to waste (as a result of the career switch)…but I’ve come to think that I don’t regret what I studied,” he said.
“It’s precisely because of my background in filmmaking that helps me bring a different perspective during my time volunteering. Wherever I am, no matter how far I go in my social work journey, my past experiences will still hold relevance.”
As Dominic continues to help out at Youthline, he hopes to heal the youths that dial in, while also continuing to open up his own internal conversations about mental health since the topic has gained more attention after the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is also reflected through polls by the National Youth Council (NYC), which found that since 2022, mental well-being ranked fourth among youth issues needing more attention in the next one year. Close to four in 10 youths also believed the difficulty in openly discussing mental well-being, mental health conditions or related topics is an issue to be addressed.
For those that might be interested in volunteering for similar social services, Dominic advises them to search for a service that’s related to their area of interest before signing up, and to commit to such services at their own pace.
“Sign up for something small first. And from that small launching platform, see whether you would be interested in continuing doing it down the line before jumping to another platform.”