COVID-19 SPECIAL

Circuit breaker saw positive effects or health benefits for some

With time and space to pause, reflect and recharge, they can better care for themselves and family members

People exercise at the Promontory @ Marina Bay on June 6, 2020.
People exercise at the Promontory @ Marina Bay on June 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

The girl had not finished revising her schoolwork, so her mother cancelled their planned movie outing.

This prompted the 14-year-old, who was already struggling with self-esteem issues, to go online in March and express suicidal thoughts.

A friend saw the post and alerted her school. The student, who declined to be named, then began receiving counselling from both her school counsellor and a private practitioner.

She had exhibited self-harming behaviour before, scratching and cutting herself with her fingernails.

But when the circuit breaker period started in early April, the situation suddenly improved.

"We were all at home so I could talk to her at night from 10pm all the way to 1am or 2am to try to understand her better. She now calls me her BFF," said her mother, who wanted to be known only as Madam Chan. BFF is teenage slang for "best friends forever".

"Being away from school also meant that she was less exposed to certain friends who were confiding in her their self-harm or suicidal thoughts," said Madam Chan, 40, a businesswoman.

While the United Nations has recently warned of a global mental health crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic and local surveys have measured the mental health fallout, charities here say the circuit breaker period has also produced positive effects or health benefits for some Singaporeans.

They now have the time and space to pause, reflect and recharge, allowing them to better care for themselves and their family members.

"I used to think that we have to do something big, like go on a holiday or do something memorable, for me and my family members to get to know each other better," said Madam Chan's daughter.

"But now I realise that nothing extraordinary needs to happen. Even in quieter times, we can learn how to talk and communicate," added the teenager, who no longer feels suicidal though she is still being monitored for self-harming behaviour.

 
 

Ms Theresa Pong, principal counsellor at the charity Focus on the Family Singapore (FOTF), said: "With the circuit breaker, many have experienced intensified emotions, but some have developed better coping mechanisms and greater resilience in managing these emotions moving forward."

A secondary school administrator in her 50s, known only as Madam Lim, had been displaying signs of near burnout late last year.



Social worker Evangeline Yeh, founder of non-profit organisation Unity Movement, doing a simulated video conferencing and counselling session with a client. PHOTO: COURTESY OF EVANGELINE YEH

She was bringing home work to finish, and some nights she was able to sleep for only two to three hours. She found herself feeling tired all the time and became forgetful.

Burnout was formally recognised as a medical condition last year.

 
 
 

If Madam Lim had continued down that path, she would have become unable to function well in her job before long and might have suffered from mental health issues, said Mr Ng Yong Hao, a social worker from Whispering Hearts Family Centre, where Madam Lim sought help in March.

Then, with the start of the circuit breaker period in early April, she was able to work from home two days a week.

That meant she could get seven hours of sleep every night and eat regular meals. After finishing work, she had time to go for a jog, read and watch movies.

During the weekends, she would do personal reflection exercises by writing in a journal.

Such routines helped to regulate her sleeping patterns and she began feeling more energised and less tense and agitated. Having gone back to work in the school, she now intends to continue with these practices.

  • Helplines

  • • National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868

    MENTAL WELL-BEING

    • Fei Yue's Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg

    • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222

    • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

    • Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385-3714

    • Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 

    MARITAL AND PARENTING ISSUES

    • Community Psychology Hub's Online Counselling platform: CPHOnlineCounselling.sg 

    COUNSELLING

    • TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252

    • Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800

Social worker Evangeline Yeh, founder of non-profit organisation Unity Movement, who counselled Madam Chan's daughter, said it is crucial for individuals to think about what routines or aspects of their lives helped them during the circuit breaker period and keep them for good. These lifestyle changes are beneficial for both mental and physical health.

Dr Yeo Wee Ming, 48, started an environmental hygiene company in 2015. He already knew back then that viruses and bacteria could easily spread on various surfaces.

So he tried to educate his family on using their palms or knuckles - instead of their fingertips - to press lift buttons or to turn doorknobs, as people often touch their own faces or bodies with their fingertips.

"I have been nagging them about it since 2015 but it fell on deaf ears. But now, finally, I see them faithfully doing it these few months and I believe they will continue with these habits for the rest of their lives."

Ms Pong said one's mental and emotional well-being is often linked to relationships at home.

FOTF's recent survey of more than 1,000 mothers found that mums who indicated their spouses as their main source of support reported significantly lower stress.

Said Ms Pong: "Families who are better able to cope and navigate relationships at home and have used the circuit breaker as an opportunity to nurture stronger relationships have emerged with better mental and emotional well-being."

Mr Ng agreed that it is about one's ability to adjust to a new normal.

"People will learn a greater level of adaptability in an ever-changing environment... That is an even more important life skill to have now."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2020, with the headline 'Charities say circuit breaker saw positive effects or health benefits for some'. Subscribe