Efforts to prevent mental problems

We agree with Ms Maria Loh Mun Foong ("Mental health initiative should target young people"; Nov 28) on the importance of mental health services targeting adolescents and young adults, as the age group between 14 and 29 is considered the peak period for the onset of mental health problems.

A World Health Organisation study has shown that 50 per cent of youth with mental illness have their onset by the age of 14, and 75 per cent by age 24.

It is, however, more important to prevent mental health problems before they develop, and we have in place such programmes in schools.

Schools proactively strengthen students' mental well-being through social and emotional learning. This includes teaching students to manage their emotions, and problem-solving and help-seeking skills.

Students also learn to recognise distress signs and to look out for one another. They are encouraged to approach teachers or school counsellors if they or their friends need help.

Schools, general practitioners (GPs) and family service centres are usually the first to pick up early warning signs, and, thus, have an irreplaceable value in identifying people who might need help.

Under the 2007 National Mental Health Blueprint, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, introduced the Response, Early Intervention and Assessment in Community Mental Health (Reach) programme, to improve the mental health of students in primary, secondary and special schools and junior colleges.

Reach teams work closely with school counsellors, GPs and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), training them to identify students with emotional, behavioural or developmental disorders; Reach also mans a helpline for these community partners to call for support and assistance.

Reach teams also go to schools to do assessments or interventions, where necessary. They also work with VWOs that help at-risk youth, out-of-school youth or those from dysfunctional families.

Another initiative by IMH, the Community Health Assessment Team (Chat), helps 16- to 30-year-olds learn about and address their own mental health issues.

Chat offers a free and confidential mental health check at Chat Hub, located at *Scape in Orchard Road.

Since 2009, Chat has received more than 1,300 referrals for the mental health checks and assessed more than 800 young people. Where necessary, they are referred to specialist care, or followed up with school counsellors and community services.

Young people go through emotional, social and psychological changes during their developmental years. Early detection and intervention for any onset of mental health problems are, thus, most critical.

Daniel Fung (Adjunct Associate Professor)
Medical Board
Institute of Mental Health

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline 'Efforts to prevent mental problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe