Many in Singapore unwilling to live or work with people with mental health conditions: Survey

Nearly 43,000 people went for outpatient treatment at the Institute of Mental Health in 2017 - a 22 per cent increase from the figure in 2010.
Nearly 43,000 people went for outpatient treatment at the Institute of Mental Health in 2017 - a 22 per cent increase from the figure in 2010.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO FILE

SINGAPORE - Even as more people are seeking outpatient treatment at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), more than five in 10 respondents of a recent survey indicated they are unwilling to live with, live nearby or work with a person with a mental health condition.

The survey, which is the first of its kind by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), also found that six in 10 people believe that mental health conditions are caused by a lack of self-discipline and willpower.

Another key finding from the survey conducted last year - half of the 1,796 respondents believe that persons with mental health conditions should not be given any responsibility.

But there were some encouraging notes in the findings, which were released on Saturday (Sept 8).

Seven in 10 respondents acknowledged that persons with mental health conditions experience stigma and discrimination in their daily lives, and eight in 10 said they believe the best therapy for these persons is for them to be included in society.

The findings highlight the misconceptions and stigma suffered by persons with mental health conditions,  said NCSS deputy chief executive officer Tina Hung. 

This will lead to them withdrawing from society and discouraging them from seeking help, added chief executive of IMH, Professor Chua Hong Choon.

"It's a vicious cycle - when they don't seek help, their condition deteriorates," Dr Chua added. "It is only when their condition worsens that they come to IMH and recovery will be more challenging then."

More people in Singapore have been seeking help for mental conditions such as depression, alcohol abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Last year, nearly 43,000 people went for outpatient treatment at IMH - a 22 per cent increase from the figure in 2010, according to previous reports.

And a Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2010 by IMH showed that one in eight adults here has experienced a mental health condition in their lifetime.

To combat stigma, a nationwide, five-year public education campaign was launched by NCSS on Saturday at the Mental Health Festival. The festival was organised by IMH to mark its 90th anniversary.

The Beyond The Label campaign, funded by the Tote Board Mental Health Strategic Initiative, will feature five Singaporeans aged 24 to 36 years old who are currently in recovery from various mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia, and have taken on the role as ambassadors for the campaign.

Their stories will be shown across Singapore, such as on public buses and at MRT stations, from September to November. Skits and other tools to kick-start conversations about mental health will also be used to help the public empathise with those with mental health conditions.

NCSS will also be working with partner groups to counter stigma towards mental health conditions.

Speaking at the launch on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that IMH - Singapore's only psychiatric hospital - has come a long way since it was founded as The Mental Hospital in Yio Chu Kang in 1923. Later, it was renamed Woodbridge Hospital in 1951, but the stigma still persisted.

"The stigma (back then) was very real and those with mental health conditions were living on the margins of society, and sometimes they were institutionalised for life. It was very tough for them, and also tough for the families," he said.

Since then, IMH has been renamed and relocated to Buangkok, and transitioned from an institutional care model to a community-based model focusing on early detection, rehabilitation as well as care and support in the community, he added.

"We have learnt a lot over the years, especially over the last 20 years, we've really come very far," he said.

DPM Tharman added that there are currently eight polyclinics offering mental health and dementia services, and 140 general practitioners have been trained to diagnose patients with mental health conditions.

He also urged Singaporeans to include those with mental health conditions in society, rather than shut them out.