Local firm to pay for counselling sessions for those distressed by coronavirus outbreak

Experts had earlier warned that the isolation, fear and stress could be detrimental to mental health here.
Experts had earlier warned that the isolation, fear and stress could be detrimental to mental health here.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Feeling stressed out by the latest Covid-19 control measures, or looking for someone to talk to about your work-from-home worries?

Help will soon be just a tap on the screen away under a new free service provided by local health technology company MHC Asia Group.

The company, which aggregates medical resources, is planning to bring together a team of over 60 professional counsellors from various private practices in Singapore and make their services available through teleconsultation on an app on Friday (April 10).

Experts had earlier warned that the isolation, fear and stress during the Covid-19 outbreak could be detrimental to mental health here.

MHC chief executive officer Eric Koh told The Straits Times on Monday that he decided to launch the service after reading articles about divorce rates shooting up in ageing societies.

In these cases, the divorces occurred after husbands retired and found themselves spending an extended period of time with their spouses.

When the new circuit breaker measures to control the virus here were announced last Friday, Mr Koh realised there was a risk of something similar happening here, as families would have to spend more time than usual living together.

"You don't want to solve this economic and health problem, and then have a social problem to deal with," he said.

"Singapore is formulated on the premise of family, it's very important for us to keep families intact, keep our mental health in order."

So he and his team got in touch with trained counsellors from practices around Singapore which they had worked with in the past.

The counsellors were invited to offer their services on the MHC BetterHealth app, which is run by local clinic Intemedical 24 Hour Clinic.


Members of the public can access the service for free on the app from Friday until June 30, but the time period may be extended, depending on how the coronavirus situation develops here.

The counselling service will be available 24/7, with about four to six counsellors on standby during the night.

In addition to providing professional support, counsellors will be able to direct those who need other forms of assistance to the various resources and helplines that are available.

Mr Koh said the bills for all the teleconsultations would be paid for by his company.

He hopes this initiative would encourage others to step up and help others during the Covid-19 crisis.

He said: "If everyone does a small part, it becomes a very big movement... as fellow citizens, the support of one another is all we have."

Dr Raymond Ong, managing director of Intemedical 24 Hour Clinic, said: "We understand that many Singaporeans are under a lot of stress in this current situation, so we were thinking about alternative means of serving our population."

The clinic will be absorbing the cost of having the telecounselling function coded into its app.

Dr Ong added: "As a doctor, this is another way of serving out my calling."

Others have also offered their services free of charge during this period.

Charities such as Care Singapore, Fei Yue Community Services and Silver Ribbon had earlier launched free online counselling services to help people cope with the stress of the outbreak.


And more than 40 psychologists have answered the Singapore Psychological Society's rallying call to offer therapy at a discounted rate or for free during the Covid-19 crisis.

The full list of these professionals can be found here.

One of them, Dr Emily Ortega, a lecturer in psychology at a local university and a sports psychologist, said: "I work with athletes, and one of the biggest things they face is learning to cope with anxiety, and how to manage an uncertain situation. There are some parallels with the current situation here that allow me to help people affected by it."

She is providing free additional counselling for those affected by the outbreak, on top of doing her day job.

Over the past two days, she received around 10 requests for assistance, and had to take many of these calls at night after finishing her work.

But she is persevering. " I take this as a service for my nation."