Propagating a culture of wellbeing

It was by sheer chance that Dr Jessie Chua, Wellbeing Specialist Partner, Health & Wellbeing, Office of the President, discovered her love for plant propagation. Since joining NUS earlier this year, Jessie has embarked on a new kind of propagation project – to foster a culture of wellbeing within NUS.

Having grown up in a kampong, the gardens kept by her parents and grandparents were a way of life for her since her childhood. Even when they eventually moved to other parts of Singapore, her family continued their gardening habits, but it was not something that Jessie gave much thought to. In fact, she only got her very first plant – a snake plant – in 2018, when she started working as a psychologist in private practice. She had hoped the plant would brighten up her office where she had her therapy sessions with clients.

“From that point on, it exploded!” laughed Jessie, adding that the home she shares with her husband and three pet rabbits has transformed into a garden over time.

“I’m grateful that my husband shares my passion for plants and plant propagation, so the two of us would often visit plant nurseries and spend hours tending to our plants over weekends,” she said.

Jessie is particularly fascinated by plants that are of a darker shade, that look intricate and interesting. Over time, she learnt that some of them have little corms, similar to bulbs, in their roots which can be harvested and used to propagate the plant. She confesses that, as a result, she now has countless numbers of the same plant.

Bubbly and personable, Jessie says she finds her quiet time when she is propagating her plants. She would wash the roots of the mother plant, disinfect them, and meticulously harvest the corms for propagation. The mother plant is then repotted and the corms are carefully peeled, disinfected and placed in a growing medium. “I find the process so meditative and can do it for hours,” shared Jessie. “It also gives me time to reflect on things and I’ve had many ‘eureka moments’ while doing my propagation.”

Jessie shared that a lot of trial and error, reading and discussing with fellow plant-loving friends have equipped her with a wealth of knowledge and skills about plants. She and her husband now use these skills to help rescue plants that are ailing and provide support to other plant-parents through online gardening communities.

“For fun we call ourselves the ‘plant-bulence’. It takes patience but it also brings us so much joy to see the plants thrive again,” said Jessie.

A clinical psychologist by training, Jessie draws many parallels between plant propagation and a person’s mental wellbeing. Just like how plants require the right medium and optimal water and sunlight to thrive, environmental factors such as family, friends, work, and society affect a person’s wellbeing.

“Often, when staff come to see us for a check-in, we work with them to identify environmental factors that are adversely affecting their mental wellbeing. We can then see how to either fix, change or remove these factors. Sometimes, it could even be helping staff to perceive things differently,” said Jessie. “I believe that just like plants, with the right support, we humans can also thrive”.

Marrying her love for propagation and mental health, Jessie is part of a devoted team of facilitators who have been ‘propagating’ a community of trained NUS Peer Staff Supporters to identify colleagues in distress and offer emotional support.

We want to build a culture where all NUS staff feel safe to talk about their concerns and be able to access the help they need safely and confidentially. We’re so encouraged that the programme has been well received, with over 300 staff signing up to be trained as peer supporters,” said Jessie.

Besides this, the team also partners individual business units at NUS to create bespoke mental health and wellbeing programmes for staff. These programmes are curated upon completing a comprehensive needs analysis for the unit. The goal, she says, is to nurture a positive work environment where staff feel supported and are excited to work at.

Jessie emphasises that there is absolutely no shame in seeking support for one’s mental health, just as you would consult a doctor for a common cold or flu. What is important is to seek help from the right practitioners. She recommends looking up a professional from the Singapore Register of Psychologists or the Singapore Association for Counselling.

For NUS staff, Jessie and her colleagues are available to offer support throughout working hours. And if you happen to be assigned to Jessie, be prepared to hear a lot of plant metaphors, she warns with a chuckle.

Building a resilient NUS Community

NUS Wellbeing Specialist Partners are Clinical Psychologists who support the NUS staff population, as well as any employees exposed to stressful events.

Did you know?

  1. You can book an appointment with NUS Wellbeing Specialist Partners like Jessie via this online form. The service is free for all NUS staff.
  2. What you discuss with your Wellbeing Specialist Partner will be kept strictly confidential (except when there is a risk to your safety) and will not be added to your staff record.

If you want to know more about the Health and Wellbeing Check-ins, check out their FAQs or email hwb@nus.edu.sg.