New online platform to train mental health first aiders

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (centre) and MP Joan Pereira (second from right) interact with representatives from the Changi General Hospital after the launch of Project Mental Health First Aid, on May 20, 2017.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (centre) and MP Joan Pereira (second from right) interact with representatives from the Changi General Hospital after the launch of Project Mental Health First Aid, on May 20, 2017.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - A new online platform will help boost community efforts to spot and support people with mental disorders.

Called Project eMHFA(S), or e-Learning Mental Health First Aid, Singapore, the website aims to make it easier for people to pick up skills such as detecting signs of mental illness.

The pilot aims to equip 900 community leaders and members of key groups such as unions and voluntary welfare organisations with this knowledge over three years.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam launched the project by Changi General Hospital and Temasek Foundation Cares on Saturday (May 20) at a mental wellness fair in Bukit Merah.

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Temasek Foundation Cares, a philanthropic organisation which also organised the fair, has committed $578,000 to the new programme.

The programme is an important one for several reasons, said Mr Tharman, who is also coordinating minister for economic and social policies.

Firstly, mental illness is rarely talked about, so it is crucial that the programme is open about it.

Second, said Mr Tharman: "The earlier we spot the problem, the easier it is for the person to avoid the situation from getting worse and the easier it is for them to enjoy their life as they grow older."

Third, the programme will also help train volunteers on the ground.

"We can use this opportunity as the society gets older to also strengthen our community bonds," he added.

Temasek Foundation Cares chairman Richard Magnus noted that about 900,000 Singaporeans will be aged 65 or older by 2030, which means the number of dementia patients is likely to grow.

"We have to be prepared to care for them," he said.

The new online programme will take parts of a two-day mental health first aid course currently organised by CGH.

The CGH course is typically conducted on-site, which could deter some from signing up. But with the online platform, participants only need to spend half a day in the classroom.

The bulk of learning will be done online, at their convenience. When a participant has completed all required modules, he will be certified a Mental Health First Aider and be part of a central registry or the trained individuals, who can be mobilised in the event of a crisis.

This means more people can now be trained in a shorter time.

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Joan Pereira said in a speech at the fair that 20 grassroots volunteers from her Henderson-Dawson ward have been trained under the pilot.

She hopes to see more than 50 volunteers - ranging from interest group leaders to hawkers - join the programme by the end of next year.

"These are people who meet residents on a daily basis and, being close to them, can immediately identify behavioural changes," said Ms Pereira.

"In fact, a hawker selling nasi lemak has volunteered to be trained as he often comes across residents who are mentally-challenged and wants to help them."