Singapore

Pandemic’s impact on mental health under the spotlight

Task force makes three recommendations to tackle issues like financial stress, work anxiety and loneliness

More than half of the young people polled by the National Youth Council in the second  half of last year said mental  well-being was a challenge for  them, with some citing anxiety  over the future, stress over finances, and worries about academic or work performance.

The answers reflect some of  the ways in which the pandemic  has impacted the mental health  of the population here, said the  Covid-19 Mental Wellness  Taskforce yesterday.

At a virtual briefing, the task  force identified issues with Singapore’s mental health landscape and offered three recommendations to address them:  Developing a national mental  health and well-being strategy,  building a one-stop online portal for national mental health resources, and creating a national  mental health competency  training framework.  

Noting that the pandemic affected both the young and old,  the task force pointed to a study  by the Singapore Management  University’s Centre for Research on Successful Ageing,  which found that older Singaporeans reported a stark increase in feelings of isolation  when the circuit breaker began  in April last year.

Another study by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to  assess the population’s psychological response during the pandemic found that about 13 per  cent of those surveyed experienced symptoms of depression  or anxiety between May last  year and June this year.

IMH’s Mental Health  Helpline also had 50 per cent  more callers last year compared  with 2019, with a peak in April  last year coinciding with the  start of the circuit breaker. The  number of calls gradually decreased towards the end of last  year, but went up again between January and May this  year.

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The task force said: “Covid-19  has brought unprecedented  shifts in our lives. The fear of infection, changes in our daily routine, and social isolation  brought about by safe management measures, as well as economic uncertainty, are stressors that have impacted the  mental well-being of many individuals.”

Various agencies stepped up  to tackle this issue, said the task  force. For instance, the National Care Hotline was  launched in April last year to  support those facing mental  health concerns related to  Covid-19. By the end of May  this year, the hotline had handled over 45,000 calls.

More than 40 initiatives  were also introduced to promote mental well-being, help  those with mental health needs,  and directly address stressors  that can impact mental health.

But there is room for improvement in three areas, said the  task force.

First, it is recommending  that a national mental health  and well-being strategy be developed. The Government will  carry out a public consultation  on this next year.

Second, the Health Promotion Board is developing a national portal for mental health  resources to be curated by experts. The portal will be hosted  on HealthHub, and a pilot version will be rolled out later this  year.

Third, the task force said a national mental health competency framework should be developed with a common set of  training standards and clearly  defined degrees of competencies expected of professionals  and para-professionals who  support those with mental  health conditions.

The implementation of the  task force’s recommendations  will be overseen by a new interagency task force on mental  health and well-being. Set up  by the ministries of Health and  Social and Family Development, it will oversee mental  health efforts beyond  Covid-19, focusing on issues  that require inter-agency collaboration.

Chaired by Senior Minister of  State for Health Janil Puthucheary, the task force’s 21 members include Minister of State  for Education and Social and  Family Development Sun Xueling and representatives from  IMH and the National Trades  Union Congress.

The Covid-19 task force said  the appointment of Dr Janil as  the new task force’s chair signals the importance of mental  wellness.

Dr Janil said: “We look forward to engaging Singaporeans  in this national, important effort to enhance our mental health and well-being.”

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