More in Singapore going online for counselling help

Rise due to more people becoming tech-savvy, say welfare groups

More people have been turning to online counselling and e-mail befriending services for help in recent years.

At least four such online services have registered more users or help requests.

Welfare groups which run such services said the increase is likely due to more people being tech-savvy and feeling more comfortable with talking about problems online.

The eCounselling Centre (www.eC2.sg), set up in 2004 by Fei Yue Community Services mainly for young people aged 12 to 25, had 134 new users last year, up from 108 five years ago.

Users are chatting more often too: There were 1,219 chat sessions last year, up from 427 five years ago.

An appointment has to be made for one-on-one sessions with a counsellor in a virtual chatroom.

Over at the Marine Parade Family Service Centre, users can log on any time from 3pm to 7pm on weekdays in its virtual counselling chatroom, called "metoyou".

Nearly 2,500 chat sessions were held last year, up from about 2,270 five years ago.

The Health Promotion Board also has an online peer support network, called Audible Hearts, which is for the young and run by the young.

The network had more than 1,600 queries last year, a 22 per cent rise from the figure the year before.

Suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), whose service is for people of various ages, has also seen more people using its e-mail befriending service.

Started in 2003, the service invites distressed individuals to write in anonymously to an e-mail address and promises a reply in 48 hours.

Last week, The Straits Times learnt that the authorities had piloted an online counselling service for problem gamblers at www.nams.sg

The live webchat was set up by the National Council on Problem Gambling and National Addictions Management Service, and adds to the council's 24-hour helpline.

Help groups said the prevalence of online platforms has made it easier for people to seek help online.

They feel safer with the possible anonymity and are more open as a result, the groups added.

"When it's done face to face, some young people may find it difficult to express themselves," said Fei Yue programme executive Joel Neo.

"But, online, they seem to be more comfortable in sharing and they come ready to share."

SOS executive director Christine Wong said: "When people are comfortable about getting emotional support via writing, it generates more openness and interest towards getting professional support when necessary." goyshiyi@sph.com.sg