Caregivers face great pressure and need more help, say advocates
The case of Tan Tian Chye, who was yesterday jailed for killing his mentally ill adult daughter, has shone a spotlight on a large gap in Singapore's mental healthcare system, say mental health advocates.
"Things are getting better, there is a lot more information and awareness about mental illness, but honestly speaking, the caregiver element is still missing," said Mr Tim Lee, chief executive of charity Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL).
"They need to be part of the ecosystem. You need to help caregivers. If not, they cannot help their loved ones recover."
While Tan's case was in the extreme, caregivers here face tremendous pressure, Mr Lee said, especially those taking care of the mentally ill as the stigma associated with mental illness means these caregivers often bear the load themselves.
He added: "It is a time bomb waiting to explode... when will they break down, when will they be unable to handle it?"
Mr Lee said one thing that is taught during CAL's free 12-week caregiver training course is when to get help.
"It is not all about loving and protecting the person. At some point, you must ask for professional help. There is nothing to be shy about it," he said.
Self-care and finding support from a community of other caregivers can also be vital.
Dr Geraldine Tan, principal psychologist of The Therapy Room, said caregiver stress is common but rarely spoken about. She added: "It is important for them to know they are not isolated... There is help everywhere. With social media and the Internet, groups and forums are widely available."
Former Nominated MP Anthea Ong said it is important caregivers seek help early so they can manage the caregiving burden effectively and not compromise their mental health.
"I know of many caregivers who de-prioritise their emotional needs because they feel guilty," she said.
To encourage more to get help, stigma, misconceptions, and issues relating to affordability, accessibility and quality of mental healthcare need to be found and removed.
Citing the 2016 Singapore Mental Health Study, which found that one in seven people here have experienced a mental disorder, Ms Ong said: "We need to ramp up awareness and education because for every person with mental health conditions, we are talking about even more Singaporeans who are caregivers to these people."
She said there is also an urgent need for better education and awareness on the effectiveness and side effects of psychiatric drugs so mental health patients do not reject treatment because of fixed perceptions.
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health's crisis helpline: 6389-2222
Caregivers' Association of the Mentally Ill: 6782 -9371
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
Caregivers Alliance Limited (weekdays, 9am to 6pm): 6460-4400