Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) will be launching a new five-year Community Mental Health master plan this year, with the aim of strengthening community mental health services.
One in 10 people in Singapore will be stricken by mental illness in their lifetime, and many are likely to face depression - the most common mental illness here by Singapore Institute of Mental Health. Such an alarming fact necessitates measures to reach out to whoever need help in building positive mental health.
However, mental illness is still being stigmatised in the society by prejudice, ignorance and fear. The World Health Organisation has recognised that the image of mental illness is incorrectly associated with images of violence and laziness, rather than with suffering, marginalisation and denial of basic rights.
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor outlined the details of the plan in her ministry’s Committee of Supply debate on Thursday.
Firstly, front-line staff from selected government agencies will be trained to identify and respond to people with mental health issues in the community. These agencies include Housing and Development Board (HDB), National Environment Agency (NEA) and Singapore Police Force. Dr Khor explained that this is to improve the early identification of mental health symptoms.
The Agency for Integrated Care will also act as a “first responder” to mental health needs identified in the community. It will coordinate care across the health and social sectors.
MOH and the Ministry of Social and Family Development will work together to strengthen integrated health and social care services in the community. The number of community outreach teams will be increased from 18 to 50 by 2021, to educate the public on mental health and reach out to those at risk.
Lastly, “after-care” support for Institute of Mental Health (IMH) patients will be strengthened. “MOH will resource IMH to widen their case management support, so more IMH patients will be supported in the post-discharge period and transit well back home,” Dr Khor said. “IMH expects to be able to support an additional 3,000 patients over the next five years, on top of the current 8,000 patients.”
Schools step up focus in mental health
In 2015, there were 27 suicide cases among ten to 19 year-olds. It was double the 2014 figure, despite a drop in the overall number of suicides.
Schools have started paying more attention to students’ mental wellness, and taken preventive measures. This is done by training students in basic counseling skills and mental health issues, to enable them to be able to detect the symptoms in friends who are in distress. The importance of this is that students are often more comfortable with speaking to friends about issues, as compared to teachers or parents.
“[We will be] closely monitoring the socio-emotional and mental well-being of our students" by working with schools, families and other agencies to build support networks, said the Ministry of Education (MOE). "Emphasis is placed on early identification and timely support for students who are in distress before the problem is exacerbated."
Teachers are trained to detect signs of distress in students and provide basic counseling support.