Team helping students manage mental health wins medical award

The IMH team that won the National Clinical Excellence Team Award include (from left) Ms Chan Mei Chern, head of operations; Ms Geraldine Wong Cheng Im, team leader; Associate Professor Daniel Fung Shuen Sheng, programme director; and Ms Grace Li Jia
The IMH team that won the National Clinical Excellence Team Award include (from left) Ms Chan Mei Chern, head of operations; Ms Geraldine Wong Cheng Im, team leader; Associate Professor Daniel Fung Shuen Sheng, programme director; and Ms Grace Li Jiaying, team leader.PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Students with mental health issues used to have to wait up to three months just to get help.

But ever since a community mental health programme was launched in 2007, help is now available almost instantaneously to troubled pupils from primary schools to junior college students, with the help of trained professionals stationed around the island who help identify and assess them early.

For their contributions, the team behind the Response, Early Intervention and Assessment in Community Mental Health (Reach) programme was presented the National Clinical Excellence Team Award by Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

Today, most students in need can look to Reach for professional help in a more natural setting such as in schools or in their homes, said Associate Professor Daniel Fung, Reach's programme director.

This helps young people avoid the stigma associated with seeking help at hospitals and has made mental health services more accessible to them, said Prof Fung.

"When you wait... when you're not sure, the problem either solves itself, or gets worse," said Prof Fung.

The Reach team was one of seven teams and individuals who were lauded at the annual National Medical Excellence Awards ceremony. Recipients received a trophy, citation, and a prize of $10,000 each.

The awards, which started in 2008, recognise healthcare professionals for their outstanding work as clinicians, researchers and educators.

This year's winners include Associate Professor Patrick Tseng, who won the National Outstanding Clinician Award for his work in the dental specialty endodontics, and Associate Professor Toh Han Chong, who bagged the National Outstanding Clinician Scientist award for his pioneering work in cancer immunotherapy here.

Prof Tseng, who was formerly the Ministry of Health's chief dental officer, was recognised for achievements such as helping to develop a new dental tool now widely used in teaching programmes around the world.

Prof Toh, a senior consultant at National Cancer Centre Singapore's division of medical oncology, recalled how he and his team struggled initially to get a cell and cancer immunotherapy programme off the ground here, as there was scepticism about the use of immunotherapy to treat cancer. This form of treatment relies on the body's immune system to fight cancer cells.

"But our team were the ones who continued and continued to build on it for the past 20 years," said Prof Toh. People now believe it to be the next frontier for cancer treatment, he added.

Despite the award, Prof Toh will not be resting on his laurels.

"To quote Winston Churchill, 'This is just the end of a beginning.' There is still a lot of work to do and we want to push on," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2018, with the headline 'Team helping students manage mental health wins medical award'. Print Edition | Subscribe