S'pore ranked 4th in mental health index for Asia-Pacific

Singapore has been ranked fourth out of 15 territories in the Asia-Pacific for policies and services which help people with mental illness to integrate into society.

New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan were first, second and third, respectively, in the first such ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which was released yesterday to mark World Mental Health Day.

The Asia-Pacific Mental Health Integration index was based on 18 indicators in four categories, including access to healthcare and social services, and policies that fight stigma and protect the rights of people with mental health issues.

It found that while Singapore has implemented mental health policies and provided support for employment, the problems of stigma and a lack of allied health professionals still need to be addressed.

Experts here agreed more needs to be done to address the stigma.

"Our mental health literacy is comparable to Australia and New Zealand, but stigma is still strong here," said Associate Professor Daniel Fung, chairman of the medical board at the Institute of Mental Health.

He said what is needed is "a sustained national campaign to promote understanding and where people with mental health conditions can come forward publicly to share their experiences and show that it is a recoverable condition".

Ms Porsche Poh, executive director of mental wellness advocacy group Silver Ribbon, said there has been "a lot of improvement", but stigma and a lack of awareness here remain major concerns. "We don't talk about it - it is a taboo," she said. "If more people seek early treatment and are diagnosed, they can be better integrated into society."

Employment is one way to help people with mental illness integrate into society. "It is not solely about offering job opportunities, but educating employers to handle people with mental illness at the workplace," said Ms Poh.

Ms Tan Li Li, executive director of the Singapore Association for Mental Health, said that while employers can be encouraged to provide more jobs to people with mental health issues, there is also a need to provide platforms and support to both employers and employees.

More than one in 10 people here will have a mental health condition in their lifetime, a 2010 Singapore mental health study found.

In the index commissioned by pharmaceutical firm Janssen Asia Pacific, Pakistan was last. Indonesia was 14th and Vietnam 13th.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore ranked 4th in mental health index for Asia-Pacific'. Print Edition | Subscribe