You know that scratchy feeling you get at the back of your throat when you’re about to fall sick? I get that scratchy feeling too, except it’s a voice inside my head telling me, “Honey, 10 floors isn’t high enough.”
If we’d go to the doctor for a bad throat or a fever, why is it any different when it’s our mental health in question?
A 2010 Mental Health Study conducted by Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health found that 1 in 10 people suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime, and 1 in 17 experience Major Depressive Disorder.
Yet today, if a loved one told us they’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, most of us wouldn’t have a clue what options Singapore has, and where to go to seek support.
But where and how do any of us start?
Anne Law, Residential and Nursing Manager of Hougang Care Centre, points out the importance of identifying early signs and possibilities of loved ones being predisposed to any kind of emotional imbalance.
As a mother herself, Anne says, “I’m not saying we should let them get away with ill-discipline. It’s not uncommon for children to want to skip school, or make up excuses to get out of things.”
“But it’s not normal for a 14-year-old to spend every school morning taking a fraction of a second longer than she should to cross the road, hoping to get hit by a car. That’s not normal.“
Commonly overlooked symptoms of anxiety and mood disorders include irritability, difficulty concentrating, excessive worrying, aversion to social situations and crowds, insomnia or sleep disturbances. Physiological symptoms that also show up are nausea, trembling, fatigue, muscle tension, migraines or feeling weak and light-headed.
Unfortunately, the above-mentioned are rather generic, explaining why they’re not often noticeable. 10% of Singaporeans suffer from generalised anxiety disorder with a high percentage experiencing it first in their teens. However, many go into adulthood without ever having identified, and therefore, addressing it.
The first time 16-year-old Diana* had an anxiety attack, she was in the car with her parents. Triggered by the tense interrogation about academics, the first thing she noticed was a tightness in her chest.
“I couldn’t… I just couldn’t breathe,” she says. Her father trivialised it, accusing her of being “so melodramatic about everything.”
Anne urges parents to pay attention to their children, whether they’re pre-teens or in their twenties. In a less forgiving world, and fast-paced high functioning society like Singapore, being tuned in and particularly sensitive to the needs of young adults allow you to build a safe environment to claim sanctuary.
She speaks from a place of experience – she once walked in on her 21-year-old having a nervous breakdown and sitting amongst a collection of knives. She told her, “So what if you’ve won a full scholarship to a top Theatre school? No scholarship will bring you back to me.”
Indeed, teenage depression, suicide and self-harming rates in Singaporean youths have increased at an alarming rate and yet, little is being done to openly address the issue. In May 2016, nine days after his birthday, an 11-year-old “fell to his death” (according to newspapers), after faring badly in his exams.
Ms C, who has taught for nine years in local Secondary Schools in Singapore, lost a student to suicide in 2015 and has had three other friends, two under the age of 25, kill themselves in the last two years. “It’s so ironic that a common reaction to self-harming teenagers is to say that it’s just a cry for attention, and then proceed to deliberately ignore the issue instead of addressing it.”
Surely, it is vital then that we should educate ourselves and the younger generation on where to go to get help, and reiterate that getting help doesn’t make you weak.
Under the umbrella of the Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS), different care centres have been set up in order to meet the needs of the Singaporean community. In the 50 years that they’ve been around, they have also developed shelters and programs to reach families in crisis and victims of abuse, alongside their psychiatric rehabilitation services.
SACS was the first mental health organisation in Asia accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Here are three affordable affiliated facilities so you can look after your mental health and that of your loved ones.
Under the Singapore Anglican Community Services, Hougang Care Centre (HCC) and Simei Care Centre (SCC) are two that provide residential rehabilitation. Clients are taken into day programs, or accepted as residents to work on reintegration into society.
Vocational training equips clients with skills that will help them take on jobs as part of their rehabilitation goals. Through programs like Art Therapy, Drama Therapy and Social Enterprise Projects, clients begin to rebuild confidence and work towards applying for work.
Taking on only as much as they can handle, some start part-time before settling into more permanent jobs. The key part of recovery is for patients to be able to identify triggering situations and cope with stress in a healthy and effective manner so as to avoid a relapse.
Ultimately, the goal is for clients to be able to live independently again and be a contributing member of society. Ideally, residents should already be stable on their medication in order to reap the full benefits of their stay.
Although similar in nature, Hougang Care Centre caters to an older clientele, many of whom are above their 40s, while Simei Care Centre would be more advisable for those who are younger. For admission criteria and more information, do write in to them directly.
Hougang Care Centre: 20 Buangkok View Block 4, Singapore 534194 | Tel: +65 6386 9338 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Simei Care Centre: 10 Simei Street 3, Singapore 529897 | Tel: +65 6812 0888 | Email: email@example.com
The sensitivity of the topic on mental health and inability to easily access information causes undue extra stress on sufferers and their caregivers. Often, loved ones are at just as great a risk of a breakdown when trying to care for their loved ones.
Spearheaded by Dr Sally Thio, former Centre Director of Hougang Care Centre, Caregivers Alliance Ltd was formed in 2011. Offering programmes in both Mandarin and English, CAL advocates the benefits of peer-to-peer learning and support.
Caregivers are sometimes forgotten in the flurry to help diagnosed patients, but being able to come to a place to unload or share experiences and seek advice is a good reminder that a caregiver isn’t facing this battle alone.
As part of her mission to continue educating the community on mental health issues, Dr Thio also regularly engages people from outside of Singapore to speak at conferences. Such conferences are open to the public as well, so if you think this would be informative and helpful for you or anyone you know, sign-ups are happening online.
Caregivers Support Centre: 10 Buangkok View Singapore 539747, Institute of Mental Health, Main Lobby Outside Clinic B | Tel:+65 6388 2686 / +65 6388 8631 | Website
Life is hardly ever a fairytale ending. In fact, just because clients are well enough to live on their own and keep a full-time job, doesn’t mean that the journey ends there – continuous support is needed, for both clients and their families.
Rendering help through a mobile team of professionals, Community Rehabilitation And Support Services are available to those who have just started their journey of reintegration into society. Offering counselling and training, CRSS prides itself in meeting you exactly where you are.
This is meant literally as well as figuratively, because the team often goes out into the community or the residences of those in their program. These support services do not just cater to those getting back on their feet – the journey of recovery is not one that can be done alone after all.
Holistic support is offered to the family as well, seeing as they too will need to learn how to structure their lives to best accommodate a loved one with mental illness. CRSS also works on a grassroots level, to create awareness on mental health issues.
Community Rehabilitation And Support Services: Block 267 Bukit Batok East Avenue 4, #01-206 Singapore 650267 | Tel: +65 6562 4881
Being an inherently Asian society, it is understandably difficult to openly discuss topics like mental health and where to go to get help. But it is only in keeping these conversations open and alive that we stand a chance at stamping out the stigma that comes with mental illness.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals