Forum: Ensure quality care for people who seek help on mental health issues

Mental health professionals have always encouraged individuals to seek help.

However, the rhetoric of "it is okay to seek help" or "it is important to seek help early" might not be enough.

The aim of messages like these is to try to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help. But I think there is also a need to assure people that there will be quality care when they do seek help.

There are many different professionals who provide mental health services. They include psychiatrists, counsellors, clinical psychologists and social workers.

But apart from psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, other mental health professionals are not licensed. This means professional bodies have limited legal powers to manage malpractice.

The Singapore Association of Social Workers has an accreditation process, and the Singapore Association for Counselling has a registration process, but more needs to be done to help the public understand the implications of such accreditation and registration.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development has developed a national work competency framework for social workers, and there are plans for a similar one for counsellors.

But while these competency frameworks create a useful pathway for career development, they do not cover standards or quality of care.

What should a person expect when he enters the room of a mental health professional? How would he know if the quality of care is not acceptable? To what extent are issues such as confidentiality, the qualifications of mental health professionals and whether the service is evidence-based discussed with the person seeking help?

There might be a need for the different associations representing different mental health professionals to come together to discuss how to enforce standards on quality of care.

The need for this is especially urgent now since mental well-being has become a major concern due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and small businesses offering mental health services are mushrooming.

If we want people to seek help, we need to go beyond trying to remove any stigma. We need to assure clients that they will be well taken care of when they do.

Chua Wei Bin (Dr)

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