Now, anyone can call the Institute of Mental Health helpline, 24/7

Those suspecting mental illness in others can ask for tips on what to do

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong with Mr Suf Supiani, 37, who has panic disorder, but is releasing his own album next month called Solitude. They were at the Singapore Mental Health Conference yesterday.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong with Mr Suf Supiani, 37, who has panic disorder, but is releasing his own album next month called Solitude. They were at the Singapore Mental Health Conference yesterday.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

A helpline that used to be for the Institute of Mental Health's (IMH) patients and caregivers, and people in the business, has now been made open to everyone.

Family members, neighbours and friends who suspect mental illness in a person can call the IMH's line for tips on what to do.

Trained counsellors on the helpline will focus on assessing the risk of each case, said IMH chief executive Chua Hong Choon yesterday at the Singapore Mental Health Conference.

These counsellors can also advise callers on how to defuse crises and link them up with appropriate social services.

Previously, the helpline was open only to IMH's patients and caregivers, and community partners such as family service centres (FSCs). Currently, 10 counsellors take turns to man the line, which gets 70 calls a day from patients and caregivers, asking how to manage symptoms.

Some counsellors from FSCs also call in to flag cases when they spot a client with an unkempt appearance, said counsellor supervisor Umi Kalthom.

IMH opened the helpline to the wider public in the hope that the community can help flag potential cases.

This complements a whole-of-community approach required to manage mental illness, which Health Minister Gan Kim Yong spoke about yesterday at the opening of the two-day conference at the Singapore Expo.

"Family, friends and neighbours are the closest to those who have early signs of mental illness... they are in the best position to pick up signs and promote early treatment," he said.

This is especially important as a significant proportion of those who suffer from mental illness do not seek help, said IMH associate consultant Kelvin Ng.

Already, the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) and IMH are working with grassroots leaders to identify and manage those with mental illness. More than 300 grassroots leaders and community partners have been trained.

In Kembangan-Chai Chee, IMH and the AIC meet on- the-ground agencies such as senior activity centres, the Singapore Police Force and the Housing Board once every two months to discuss complex mental health cases. MacPherson also has a similar network.

The AIC also announced a special interest group on mental health for GPs, where 11 of them are working together to develop a standardised curriculum to educate fellow GPs on mental health.

The IMH's helpline number, open 24 hours, is 6389-2222.

kashc@sph.com.sg