SCDF boosts support system for NSFs needing more help to adjust

Singapore Civil Defence Force full-time national serviceman Muhammad Ahad Lone, 18, committed suicide in April last year.
Singapore Civil Defence Force full-time national serviceman Muhammad Ahad Lone, 18, committed suicide in April last year.PHOTO: FAMILY OF MUHAMMAD AHAD LONE

Recruits in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) who need more help to adjust to national service (NS) will now receive more support under an enhanced programme.

This comes after a State Coroner recommended last week that SCDF review its structure and protocols to deal with mental health issues, following the suicide of full-time national serviceman (NSF) Muhammad Ahad Lone, 18, in April last year.

Under the previous support programme, SCDF NSFs who had been assessed to require additional supervision and support to adjust to NS were interviewed by their NSF platoon commander.

With the enhancements, those who need more help will be accompanied by a deputy platoon commander during the interview with their platoon commander.

This deputy platoon commander would be "an older regular officer who can assume the nurturing role of a father", said an SCDF spokesman in response to media queries.

"These interviews are also now conducted in civilian attire, so that the setting is less regimented and recruits may feel more comfortable to open up about problems they may be facing," the spokesman added.

NSFs who have no local family support will also receive additional help, such as being assigned a buddy from the same ethnic group or one who speaks the same language where possible.

"Those who are facing financial difficulties will be offered accommodation within the camp over weekends or public holidays," the spokesman said.

State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam also recommended that SCDF appoint trained mental health professionals to each camp.

  • Enhanced programme

  • • Deputy platoon commander to accompany NSFs during interviews with assigned NSF platoon commander, after they have been assessed to need additional supervision and support to adjust to NS.

    • Buddy from same ethnic group or one who speaks the same language to be assigned to NSFs who have no local family support, where possible.

    • Accommodation in the camp at weekends or public holidays for NSFs who are facing financial difficulties.

Ahad was found dead on April 7 last year at the foot of an apartment block at Pine Grove in Clementi, where he had been living alone in a rented room.

He was born in Pakistan and came to Singapore with his family in 2007. They obtained citizenship in 2009 and later left Singapore. Ahad returned to serve NS and was enlisted on Feb 6 last year.

He had shown signs of depression and had told doctors of his intention to inflict self-harm during his time with SCDF. Between the time of his enlistment and his death, Ahad was seen on six occasions at the National University Hospital (NUH), on 11 occasions at the Civil Defence Academy Medical Centre and once at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

But his medical certificate privileges were restricted on March 27 last year as his unit said he had been taking multiple MCs from the NUH Emergency Department whenever he booked out of camp.

He was told visits to the emergency department ought to be only for emergencies and he should report sick in camp or to the camp's primary care doctor instead.

The spokesman said SCDF had ensured that Ahad received "prompt medical attention whenever he required it".

 
 
 
 

On April 2 last year, the SCDF medical officer placed Ahad on light duties for three months, following IMH's memo on his condition, and told him that his case would be put up to the Home Team Medical Board for consideration for a Physical Employment Status downgrade.

On the same day, an orientation officer followed up with one-on-one counselling with Ahad, said the spokesman. The officer was part of the Emergency Behavioural Sciences and Care Unit, an in-house psychological unit.

The spokesman said Ahad was given one night's confinement on April 6 last year because he was late in reporting back to the National Service Training Institute (NSTI). He also failed to report to NSTI on March 25, and did so only the following evening.

"Even though he had accrued a potential charge of Absence Without Official Leave, he was given a warning in lieu of punishment. He served the confinement under the supervision of the camp duty officer, who did not observe anything amiss about his behaviour."

The spokesman added that SCDF will study the State Coroner's recommendations carefully.


HELPLINES

Samaritans Of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

Singapore Association For Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Institute Of Mental Health's Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2019, with the headline 'SCDF boosts support system for NSFs needing more help to adjust'. Print Edition | Subscribe