More people in Singapore struggling with alcohol abuse, but seeking help earlier: Study

The study found that one in 24 people in Singapore struggled with alcohol abuse in their lifetime, or 4.1 per cent of the population. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A mental health study has shown that while alcohol abuse is a growing problem here, sufferers have been seeking help earlier.

The second Singapore Mental Health Study, conducted in 2016, found that one in 24 people struggled with the problem in their lifetime, or 4.1 per cent of the population.

This is up from one in 32 people in the landmark study done in 2010.

Symptoms include recurrent alcohol use that affects obligations at work, school, or home.

But sufferers also sought treatment earlier - the median number of years they delayed treatment in 2016 was four years, down from 13 years in 2010.

The results released on Tuesday (Dec 11) also showed that a smaller proportion, or 0.5 per cent of the population, suffered from alcohol dependence.

This refers to a condition where a person is hit with withdrawal symptoms when intake is stopped, among other things.

Individuals with alcohol dependence sought help from a professional almost immediately - within one year - after the start of associated symptoms.

The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) study was done in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Nanyang Technological University.

It involved face-to-face interviews with more than 6,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 18 and above.

Researchers said those who struggled with alcohol use disorders were lower-educated men aged between 18 and 34.

The study also found that more people were willing to seek help for their problem.

While the 2010 study found that only 3.1 per cent of sufferers sought treatment for alcohol abuse, the latest one showed that nearly one in five had approached a psychiatrist, counsellor, psychologist or family doctor for help.

Dr Mythily Subramaniam, director of the research division at IMH, said: "While there is an increase in the prevalence of anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse, early positive trends in the form of reduction of the 12-month treatment gap and decrease in the delay in seeking treatment are heartening."

However, Dr Mythily, who is also an associate professor at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, noted that "there is still a significant proportion of people who are not seeking help, which is a concern and we hope that this will improve".

The $4.9 million study showed that depression, alcohol abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) remained the top three mental disorders here, with one in seven people having experienced a mood, anxiety or alcohol use disorder in their lifetime, up from one in eight people in 2010.

Professor Chong Siow Ann, vice-chairman of the medical board (research) at IMH, said: "This comprehensive study is one of the few worldwide that is a part of a deliberate effort to track the mental health status of a country over time.

"The wealth of information will provide knowledge and insights into common mental disorders in Singapore, the emerging trends and public health concerns, and the impact of measures which have been taken since the last Singapore Mental Health Study in 2010."

The study examined the following common mental disorders: mood disorders - depression and bipolar disorder; anxiety disorders - OCD and generalised anxiety disorder; and alcohol use disorders - alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

While the lifetime prevalence of almost all mental disorders showed an increase, it was statistically significant only for generalised anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse.

There was also a rise in the prevalence of people having two or more mental disorders at the same time.

Another finding was that more than three-quarters of people with a mental disorder in their lifetime did not seek any professional help.

Among those who did, the treatment delay was longest for those with OCD at 11 years, followed by bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse at four years.

Although the study did not investigate reasons for not seeking treatment in detail, past research has found that the inability to recognise the symptoms of a mental illness and concerns regarding the stigma associated with mental illness are two common reasons for treatment delay.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.