MP calls for better care and support for mental health issues amid Covid-19

Anyone found to be at risk should be referred to a mental health practitioner. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore should encourage and normalise mental health screening for all schools, workplaces, hospitals and clinics, said Dr Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah (Jalan Besar GRC).

Anyone found to be at risk should be referred to a mental health practitioner, he told Parliament on Monday (Oct 4).

He said: "We want to engage early, before mental health issues disrupt their lives and risk them doing something harmful."

Dr Wan Rizal was speaking on improving care and support for Singaporeans' mental health, which he has advocated for since he entered Parliament in 2020, focusing on three areas - identification, infrastructure and cost.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the impact of mental health issues in Singapore, pushing the number of suicides up to 452 in 2020 - a 13 per cent jump from 400 in 2019.

Social restrictions due to the pandemic have had a negative impact on the mental health of the youth and elderly, and increased the strain on healthcare workers, educators and the civil service, he said.

Educators, including himself, are "overwhelmed, frustrated and worried", he added.

Dr Wan Rizal said a review of these workers' workloads may be useful in helping them find more work-life balance.

On infrastructure, he said staff at polyclinics, GP clinics and social service agencies should be equipped with the necessary skills.

He also suggested a review of existing programmes in schools here to train more mental health professionals.

Advocating that Singapore consider implementing longer consultation times for mental health clinical visits in the future, Dr Wan Rizal said: "Beyond the hardware, it's the software that matters too. Diagnosing or sensing mental health issues takes time - getting to know the patient, building trust, and delving into the situation can make a difference."

On the cost of getting help, which he said can be a barrier for people seeking it, he suggested the Government look into increasing the MediSave claim limit for mental health consultations, adding that the annual MediSave limit is $700 a year from next year.

This amount may be fully used up within a few mental health consultations, he said.

Currently, people can use up to $550 a day from their MediSave accounts for acute hospital care, but only up to $150 a day for inpatient psychiatric episodes.

He also suggested the Government provide more subsidies for those with Pioneer, Merdeka Generation and Chas cards.

In response, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) said that a targeted assessment of people exhibiting symptoms would be a more efficient and meaningful effort than mental health screening for all.

"These efforts will address the member's concerns of ensuring that those who are most vulnerable or at-risk are identified early, and interventions are in place to protect them from doing something harmful to themselves or others," she said.

On infrastructure, Ms Rahayu added that as at 2020, 14 polyclinics are offering mental health services and over 220 GPs are trained to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

She added that the Ministry of Health will continue to work with healthcare providers and social services to expand and improve mental health services, including training front-line staff.

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