Spotlight on mental health, psychiatry at book forum

The book club talk at the National Library last night featured Dr Carol Balhetchet and Professor Chong Siow Ann, who have written books on their respective subject matters.
The book club talk at the National Library last night featured Dr Carol Balhetchet and Professor Chong Siow Ann, who have written books on their respective subject matters.PHOTOS: SONG TAO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Dr Balhetchet (left) answering a question from the audience, while Prof Chong and Straits Times senior executive content producer Denise Chong look on.
Dr Balhetchet (left) answering a question from the audience, while Prof Chong and Straits Times senior executive content producer Denise Chong look on.PHOTOS: SONG TAO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Experts field questions at The Straits Times Book Club event that draws 300 people

Discussions on psychiatry and mental health took centre stage at a lively Straits Times Book Club event last night attended by almost 300 people.

The session at the National Library featured Dr Carol Balhetchet, a counsellor and clinical psychologist, and psychiatrist Chong Siow Ann, the vice-chairman of the Medical Board (Research) at the Institute of Mental Health.

Dr Balhetchet wrote Dr Delinquent: A Guide To Decoding The Teenage Years, while Professor Chong penned Fieldnotes Of A Psychiatrist.

The discussion - moderated by Ms Denise Chong, senior executive content producer at The Straits Times - covered topics such as psychosis and the authors' individual approaches to their practice.

Dr Balhetchet recalled that she once had a client whose father died before the client had a chance to resolve issues she had with him.

"I got her to write everything she wanted in a letter to him," she said. "She wrote and she wrote, and she had a stack of these letters. She asked, what do we do? I said, we burn it. (The process) took awhile, but she eventually felt better."

Prof Chong, who was asked about how he deals with personal attacks, said: "The worst I had was a patient who spat on me. The important thing is not to take it personally, (and) to calm the patient down."

 
 
 

Dr Balhetchet and Prof Chong later fielded questions from the audience on topics ranging from smartphone fixation and sex addiction to factors that contribute to mental illness and the way society responds to such afflictions.

English tutor Bernard Ong, 42, asked if guidelines should be put in place to tackle the growing problem of smartphone addiction among children and its effects on their mental health.

Dr Balhetchet replied: "Everything in moderation is my philosophy... Parents are the role models, and they (should) set the example."

Audience member Noor Baizura, 30, gave a candid account of her experience with bipolar disorder, her distrust of medical professionals and even recited a poem. She asked the speakers if they knew how to draw the line between mental disorders and something that could be just an "attitude problem".

Ms Lavinia Oliveiro, 31, who will soon join a youth home as a counsellor, told The Straits Times (ST) that the best thing about the discussion was that "it showed that I'm not alone in this struggle, alone in wanting answers, wanting to help".

The next book club, the ninth in the series, will be on Nov 28. It will feature Mr Raju Chellam, who will speak with ST books reporter Olivia Ho about his medical-themed thriller Organ Gold. The book is set in Singapore and looks at the black market in human organs.

Readers can register at http://str.sg/ohXB

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2018, with the headline 'Spotlight on mental health, psychiatry at book forum'. Print Edition | Subscribe