Forum: Caregivers must be prepared to spend time to help patients improve mental health

The recent marking of World Mental Health Day and the increased focus on mental health, particularly in the light of mental stress during the Covid-19 pandemic, are timely and positive in promoting awareness of mental health and why it matters in communities and society.

As a general practitioner, I have seen many patients with varying degrees of mental stress and problems over the years.

The article, “How to tell if I’m depressed or burnt out” (Oct 19), is generally helpful, but I caution against being overconfident in distinguishing between the two problems.

There are individuals who can take a lot of pressure of various kinds without “breaking down”, while there are others with personality traits and certain disorders for whom pressure would worsen their condition, even triggering thoughts of suicide and other negative emotions.

As a general rule, it is helpful for all with various symptoms of stress to seek help early.

Healthcare professionals should not dismiss such symptoms as superficial problems. Palpitations, insomnia and an inability to concentrate and cope with daily life might also be manifestations of physical illnesses like heart disease, early dementia and other neurological problems.

In cases of clinical depression, friends and family members should not chastise sufferers and tell them to “get out of the rut”. It is a condition that requires medical help and long-term medication.

I have noticed that patients and family members are sometimes afraid of having patients take medication for a long period because of the fear of “over-dependence” and addiction. Clinical depression requires long-term medication – at least three to six months – before there can be “stability”.

But it is also unhelpful for doctors in general to increase the dosage and number of medications in subsequent consultations without taking time to hear out the concerns of patients and their loved ones.

Counsellors and psychologists must be prepared to spend time to help patients improve. Each case is different and time and empathy are required to understand the various underlying factors that may help or hamper recovery.

The maintenance of good mental health requires the understanding, kindness and empathy of colleagues, relatives and friends. Indifference and negative attitudes only increase the stigma associated with mental illness.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

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