SINGAPORE - A new programme for youth, including those with a history of skipping school or minor offences, will be piloted in Woodlands.
Known as the Integrated Youth Service (IYS), it will launch in the second half of this year at the community space in Care Corner, a non-profit organisation.
It is where at-risk youths can go for coordinated mental health and social support services in the community, said Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min in Parliament on Thursday (March 5).
Care Corner will help them strengthen their resilience by providing individualised emotional support, needs identification and peer support services.
Those who need more help will be referred to the appropriate health and social services, said Dr Lam, during the debate on his ministry's budget.
Care Corner will also work with the Institute of Mental Health, the Health Ministry and the Agency for Integrated Care on the new programme.
Dr Lam said: "Moving forward, we will...work with other ministries to address youth mental health needs."
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong had on Tuesday said in Parliament the number of children and youth aged between seven and 18 admitted into public hospitals for mental health conditions was 569 in 2016, 640 in 2017 and 607 in 2018.
He added that hospitals do not track whether an admission is due to attempted suicide.
But based on the Home Affairs Ministry's records, an average of 1,204 cases of attempted suicide were reported each year from 2017 and 2019.
Ms Lee Yi Ping, senior case manager and team leader of the Community Health Assessment Team at IMH, a national outreach and mental health check programme for youth mental health, is involved in setting up the programme.
She told The Straits Times: "The purpose of IYS is to provide support to young people at a timely juncture of their life... so we don't let their difficulties deteriorate to even more severe challenges in the future."
She said that young people between the ages of 13 and 25 go through many developmental changes and transitions, which can be stressful.
"Stress increases young people's vulnerability to a variety of mental health conditions," she added.
The behaviour of at-risk youth may also be a reflection of deeper psychological or emotional issues that they are facing.
"Sometimes things like truancy aren't as simple as 'Oh, this young person is being naughty'... If we go deep enough, we may uncover things like they are not feeling accepted, or face bullying in school, or other psychological or emotional distress," said Ms Lee.
She added that current social services for youth are quite "sporadic", many of which focus more on the social aspects of at-risk youth.
While these services help youth build their mental health resilience, not many of them can cater to at-risk youths with moderate levels of mental health concerns, she added.
Also, Singapore has a number of community services for mental health issues, but "very few are youth-specific ones, so youth may not feel so inclined to go to them, she said.
Ms Lee said all young people, not just those with problems, are welcome at the IYS programme, which may eventually be rolled out elsewhere.
She said: "For a young person who's just curious and wants to know more, or is looking for info to help their peers, this is a space they can come to."