More teens call SOS about mental health problems

Sharp rise in number seeking help for issues such as depression, bipolar mood disorders

Awareness of mental health issues such as depression is gaining among one group: teenagers.

In two years, the number of teens who called a suicide hotline asking for help with their mental health problems has doubled.

"Mental health problems highlighted by teens included depression and bipolar mood disorders," said Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) executive director Christine Wong.

Last year, SOS received about 550 such calls from those aged 10 to 19, a fifth of the 2,680 calls from that age group - a sharp rise from the 244 in 2014, when there were 1,767 calls from people in that group. The main reasons for their calls remained academic pressure and relationship problems at home or school.

Ms Wong said SOS did not know if the callers had been formally diagnosed or were just seeking to put a name to their feelings.

Child psychology experts said the numbers indicate teens are becoming more aware of such issues.

  • HELPLINES

  • SAMARITANS OF SINGAPORE (24-hour hotline) 1800-221-4444

    TINKLE FRIEND 1800-274-4788

    SINGAPORE ASSOCIATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH 1800-283-7019

    CARE CORNER COUNSELLING CENTRE (IN MANDARIN) 1800-353-5800

    MENTAL HEALTH HELPLINE 6389-2222

    AWARE HELPLINE 1800-774-5935

"I have younger patients coming to me and saying: 'I think I have borderline personality disorder' or 'I think I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)'," said Dr Ken Ung, a psychiatrist at Adam Road Medical Centre.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, he said, because it shows young people are trying to understand what they are going through.

Still, it is best to back up their hunches with a diagnosis, said clinical psychologist Brian Poh of the Institute of Mental Health's child and adolescent psychiatry department.

Just matching symptoms with unverified information online could lead to over- or under-diagnoses.

"It is important to seek a proper clinical diagnosis from a trained medical professional and to work closely with the clinician on a treatment plan, if necessary," he said.

While there is no clear data on the mental health of children and teens - one of the largest studies in Singapore tracks only people aged 18 and above - Dr Ung said he and his colleagues feel they are seeing more with mental health issues.

Parents are an important part of the process in getting help for their children and should keep an open mind, said experts.

Mr Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre, has encountered parents who refuse to admit their child needs help. "They say things like, 'they can rest when they finish university'," he said.

"Other parents do not want to admit that their kid has a problem because it does not look good in front of their peers."

Some may have misconceptions about treatment, fearing their children may become addicted to prescribed medication, said Dr Ung.

Others swing the other way - believing that medicine or therapy is an assured cure.

"With this belief, they go on to ignore the other contextual factors in their child's life, such as family, school and relationships, which may perpetuate the mental condition," Mr Poh said. "It is important parents understand their children well and have a good relationship with them, so they are aware when there are emotional, behavioural or physiological changes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2016, with the headline 'More teens call SOS about mental health problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe