The spotlight on youth mental health has been the focus in recent times, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Young people are also delaying help-seeking for mental health treatment and support despite growing awareness in the area of mental health awareness in Singapore.
According to a Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2016 by the Institute of Mental Health, while one in seven in Singapore has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime, more than three quarters did not seek any professional help. Respondents in the study cited a treatment gap of 11 years as the median time between when they first experienced symptoms and when they sought help for obsessive compulsive disorder. It was four years for bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse, two years for generalised anxiety disorder and one year for major depressive disorder.
In the same study, youth between 18 to 34 years old were deemed as the most vulnerable group where one in five would have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime. In Singapore, there is a comprehensive network of mental health services from helplines and non-profit organisations offering youth-centric counselling services or mental health peer support groups, in various settings. However, there are still challenges present when it comes to seeking mental health support and Resilience Collective is one of the organisations that offers group-based peer support.
According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), from 2017 to 2019, an average of 12600 patients ages of 15 to 34 years old were sought treatment for mental health conditions at a public hospital every year.
In addition, the Integrated Youth Service, jointly developed by the MOH, Institute of Mental Health, Agency for Integrated Care and Care Corner, was described in an MOH press release as a one-step service such as individualised basic emotion support such as dealing with stress at work and dealing with stress in school. Other than that, the need identification and also befriending services.
Finding suitable treatment requires time and effort from every individual. However, experts suggested that improving the quality and quantity of information about mental health resources may encourage a young person to first seek help.
The price of mental health treatment
Most youths also added that the cost of treatment was one of the factors that is the challenge for them to seek support for mental health. Under the Chronic Disease Management Programme (CDMP), patients with schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety can withdraw up to S$500 from MediSave per year to defray the cost of outpatient treatments such as therapy and counselling treatment. However, the CDMP does not cover mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders.
Other avenues to help finance mental health treatment would be through subsidies via MediShield Life and MediSave. Those that cannot afford treatments can approach medical social workers or community family service centres for MediFund and for further financial assistance.
Understanding mental health resources
As awareness of mental health issues among young people has grown, even more efforts are being put into providing help and support. This includes the 24 hours National Care Hotline launched in April of 2020 which is manned by more than 300 psychologists, counsellors, social workers, psychiatrists and public officers.
Another website with various resources on mental health was also launched to help users assess their well being and match them with forms of assistance if needed. mindline.sg, consolidates access to many resources and tools to help people access and navigate care, with an emphasis on stress and coping. Moreover, there are community efforts in recent years such as the Beyond the Label campaigns by the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) to address mental health stigma.
To reduce mental health stigma, the key is communication with one another and to find and build a robust support network that consists of professionals, peers and the community. This network would then give rise to a better understanding of the challenges that youth are facing in their mental health journeys and ways to best support them.