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Comment: Mental health must be a national priority

Mental illnesses affect people across all ages and segments in Singapore

Mental well-being must be an ongoing national and whole-of-government priority.

We must constantly question if our national policies and spending empower, beyond just enabling, our people to be ready for challenges ahead and confident of our future.

Given that, should not mental health be one of the longer term domestic challenges alongside those highlighted in the Budget, namely ageing, social mobility, inequality, economic transformation and climate change?

The young man who works with me at one of my community projects, A Good Space, almost jumped off the 15th storey of a Housing Board block a few years ago when he was 19 even while he was on treatment for depression.

Then there is my own close shave with depression over 12 years ago when my world collapsed at the height of my professional and economic success.

The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) recently reported the number of Singaporeans between the ages of 16 and 30 who sought help from its Community Health Assessment Team over 2015 to 2018 has jumped by 190 per cent.

Children aged five to nine calling the Samaritans Of Singapore hotline rose by more than 500 per cent in less than three years.

Duke-NUS found that one in five elderly caregivers in Singapore suffer from depression, and research by Singapore Management University also found that six in 10 migrant workers with an injury or salary claim are likely to suffer from a serious mental illness.

We must make mental health a priority now because it affects the lives of Singaporeans across all ages and segments.

The Ministry of Education informed me in my recent parliamentary question that they recorded 10 in 1,000 students receiving counselling for stress and anxiety.

CONDITION

The IMH study showed one in seven adults experiences a mental health condition.

There is no health without mental health. We must normalise mental health and bring it out in the open.

The Government and community have to learn to value mental health as a basic need, and to then reduce stigma and improve help-seeking and recovery.

Mental health is not and must not be the responsibility of Ministry of Health and the social sector alone.

All ministries should recognise their role in protecting mental health.

Mandating mental health education in our schools and institutes of higher learning is the surest signal to normalise mental health, together with providing support structures for parents and families to be equipped with emotional management skills, coping mechanisms, and problem solving skills to help our children and youth better navigate stress.

It is time for the Government to recognise, acknowledge and understand the complexity of mental health and to create opportunities and solutions to improve the lives of our people, especially our children and youth.

It is time to redefine our values as a nation and cherish every individual's subjective well-being, dreams and aspirations beyond just their material and economic achievements.

It can be done, it must be done because mental health is what makes us human.

This surely is what a strong, united Singapore must, first and foremost, always be.

The writer is a Nominated Member of Parliament, the founder of Hush TeaBar, a not-for-profit social enterprise and the author of 50 Shades Of Love. This is an edited version of her speech delivered in Parliament during the Budget 2019 debate on Feb 27.

MEDICAL & HEALTH