Mental wellness an important issue amid Covid-19 pandemic: Shanmugam

Mr Shanmugam (right) was accompanied by his dog Milly during a short walk at the Botanic Gardens on May 1, 2021. PHOTO: CAREGIVERS ALLIANCE LIMITED
Mr Shanmugam (right) was accompanied by his dog Milly during a short walk at the Botanic Gardens on May 1, 2021. PHOTO: CAREGIVERS ALLIANCE LIMITED

SINGAPORE - With lockdowns sparked by Covid-19 imposing severe constraints on people globally, mental wellness has been an important issue and will be even more so going forward, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Saturday (May 1).

In Singapore, there are different facets to the issue, given the urban environment, the hectic lifestyle, as well as an ageing population.

"It is something that all of us have to actively get involved in," said Mr Shanmugam, who joined the board members of charity Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL) on a short walk at the Botanic Gardens with several canine companions.

The walk is part of a larger campaign by CAL to raise awareness about mental health and the challenges faced by caregivers of people with mental health issues. It also aims to raise funds for CAL, which provides free training programmes for these caregivers.

The donations will allow the charity to continue providing much needed support to caregivers and help to expand several new programmes, including courses for younger caregivers and caregivers of people with dementia.

CAL's head of communications, Ms Tricia Lee, told The Straits Times: "We have definitely seen an increase in the demand for the courses. Among our caregivers, more people have also been experiencing crises at home."

A survey of 1,000 people commissioned by ST in March found that one in three people felt his or her mental well-being had worsened since the eight-week circuit breaker period a year ago.

Suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) received 39,492 suicide and crisis-related calls last year, an increase of 18 per cent from 33,387 in 2019.

On the effect that the coronavirus has had on mental health, Mr Shanmugam said: "People are social beings and when you can't socialise as much as you did (before), it does impact some people a little bit more."

More broadly, younger people here face daily stresses, whether in school or at work, he said. Meanwhile, older people are living longer and could face dementia-related issues.

Mr Shanmugam added: "Many of us will know people in our family, somebody (who) has a problem... I think as a society, we need to do more."

Launched on April 5, CAL's campaign, called Walk for Mental Wellness, ends on May 16, but donations are open until June 30.

The campaign has already exceeded its $250,000 target, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Government.

Based on the idea of "You Donate, They Walk", mental wellness champions including Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, MP Murali Pillai, former Nominated MP Anthea Ong and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital chief executive Chua Hong Choon, have been roped in for the campaign. They will need to walk or run 1km for every $100 raised, and have four weeks - between April 17 and May 16 - to complete their walk or run.

Donors can track their champion's progress on the campaign's website.

There is also a social media challenge. Members of the public can donate to CAL, walk 1km, and then nominate a friend to do the same by using the hashtag #W4MWChallenge.

The campaign has raised $288,461 and clocked 2,884km so far.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.