Having penned a letter to The Straits Times Forum calling for an expansion in mental health education in Singapore, I was invited – with a group of friends – down to the centre’s headquarters at Buangkok for a brief hospital presentation and visit. The experience was nothing short of an eye-opener, and the experiences and interactions went a long way in demystifying many of the misconceptions and assumptions that we had about the hospital and its patients.
The stigma of mental and psychological disorders. Unlike other illnesses or disabilities that afflict the lives of individuals, the added layer of stigma towards mental disorders renders acceptance, comprehension and integration significant challenges. While these perspectives and attitudes are largely inspired from within, portrayal of patients as being crazy, deluded and severely out-of-control in the media proliferates the beliefs; thereby allowing such points of view to be grossly manifested. On a more immediate level, the stigmatisation of friends or family members makes it near-impossible for recovered patients to rehabilitate or integrate back to normal society. As highlighted throughout the presentations, support in the community is integral; for patients have a higher rate of recovery if there are allowed to remain at home with their loved ones.
Intensifying awareness efforts; generating more wholesome mindset changes. But how would this be made possible? The IMH does have a plethora of community-based care for its patients – such as rehabilitation centres and assessment treatment centres – but what is needed is a reduced misunderstanding of elements of psychological disorders. Greater comprehension should be fostered since young, and gradually expanded to include every individual and household in the community. Beyond traditional reliance on road-shows, advertisements and presentations, public education programmes can include exchanges with families dealing healthily with a member afflicted with a certain disorder. Hospital visits are also a good, albeit slow, way to raise empathy and proper awareness.
The first National Mental Health Policy And Blueprint. This is a positive initiative from the Ministry of Health (MOH) to generate a list of plausible recommendations to enhance the mental health profession, increase capacity, manpower and resources, as well as to build tangible networks for support and reduction of stigma. The goals expounded by the administration are novel and respectable; but it remains to be seen whether the promises and commitments can actually be fulfilled.
Adapting to a changing landscape. The IMH has done a respectable job in contextualising mental health support in Singapore. These initiatives include the establishment of the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS), reaching out to youths and youth-at-risk, championing early detection and treatment et cetera. It has the potential to do more by collaborating more closely with voluntary organisations that work on the aforementioned, and also recognise the emergence of new challenges (such as eating disorders). These responsibilities might be casually taken for granted on a day-to-day basis; but their negligence can have serious ramifications for the society.