Over 150 seek help from charity HealthServe

Covid-19 and its associated circuit breaker measures have exacted a toll on the mental health of people in Singapore. The Straits Times reports on the impact on various groups.


Over 150 migrant workers who were feeling distressed have contacted HealthServe in the two weeks after it launched its virtual counselling clinic on April 20.

Among these, three workers displayed more severe mental health symptoms that needed the psychiatrist's attention. Two were distressed from recent deaths of their family members back home and bearing the grief and guilt of not being with their families. The third was agitated because he could not understand why he was being transferred from place to place - from the dorm to Singapore Expo to the hospital and then back to the Expo within a short period of time.

"These are only a small portion of those who really need help with mental health issues. We expect a rise in numbers once more people know about this service," said Mr Justin Paul, mental health programme manager at HealthServe, the main charity here with mental health services for migrant workers.

The 150-plus workers have reached out for help via its virtual counselling clinic, 24-hour helpline or through referrals.

There are 284,300 work permit holders in the construction industry and over 18,000 work permit holders in dormitories have been infected with Covid-19.

Some of the symptoms the workers are experiencing include headaches, muscle tension and elevated heart rate. There are also behavioural changes such as losing sleep and crying uncontrollably.

Usually, volunteers who receive training in giving psychological first aid - meant to stabilise emotions - speak with the workers over Zoom sessions. If they spot certain red flags such as the worker talking about ending his life or being overly emotional, the volunteers will refer the worker to a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist will then make a medical judgment whether to send the worker for treatment or have HealthServe's trained counsellors follow up.

Mr Paul said some of the top issues affecting the workers' mental health include having the right type of food. "This may seem like a petty thing or a preference thing but imagine you have to eat unfamiliar cuisine for one whole week, your stomach won't be able to take it. This in turn affects their physical and mental health," he said.

Other aspects they are anxious about include whether they are paid or not as many have incurred debts to come to Singapore. Mr Paul said there would be an even greater need for mental health support post-Covid-19 as that is when these workers will face the pressure of adjusting back to work due to likely tighter deadlines from delayed projects or of not having a job to keep their family afloat back home.

Said Mr Paul: "Besides having access to doctors, they should also have access to psychiatrists and counsellors as mental and physical health are intertwined."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2020, with the headline Over 150 seek help from charity HealthServe. Subscribe