NCSS steps up mental health anti-stigma campaign with launch of 3rd edition of Beyond the Label

The Covid-19 crisis has brought the issue of mental health and wellness to the forefront. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - With the expected rise in mental health needs as livelihoods are hit by the Covid-19 crisis and people grow increasingly anxious, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) is stepping up its national campaign to provide support for those with such conditions and raise public awareness on how to help them recover and build resilience.

The council on Thursday (Sept 24) launched the third edition of its national mental health anti-stigma campaign Beyond the Label, amid greater mental health challenges posed by the pandemic.

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, speaking at the virtual launch of the campaign, said a recent NCSS poll of 900 respondents found that Singaporeans experienced more psychological distress during the circuit breaker period, especially those who have pre-existing mental health conditions.

"When we first launched the campaign two years ago, it was a very different world. Singapore was advancing steadily on the strong foundations we had built, transforming our economy and strengthening our social compact," said Mr Masagos.

The Covid-19 crisis brought the issue of mental health and wellness to the forefront, he said, noting that many were anxious and concerned about contracting the virus, losing their jobs and being socially isolated. Mental health needs are expected to rise as livelihoods are hit and people grow increasingly anxious, he added.

The Government has taken steps to strengthen support for people with mental health conditions, he said, citing the Youth Mental Well-Being Network that was set up in February to pool ideas and efforts to bolster youth mental health. More than 1,000 people have since responded to the call, Mr Masagos said.

Another initiative was the portal, a one-stop website launched in April for individuals to find resources to help them cope with stress and improve their well-being.

"We are also working together with partners across social and health sectors to review policies and develop services to better support persons with mental health conditions," added Mr Masagos.

During the launch, a short film by director Alvin Lee of Chuan Pictures, depicting the struggles of a father who, despite having lost his job, had to care for his wife, son and elderly parents during the circuit breaker, was screened.

Mr Lee, one of four speakers during a panel discussion, said he hopes the film will encourage more people facing mental health challenges to seek help early.

He also said the film aims to reduce stigma by showing that mental health conditions are not as scary as many people think.

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli (bottom row, second from left) together with participants and panellists during the launch of the third edition of NCSS' mental health anti-stigma campaign Behind the Label. PHOTO: NCSS

Mr Jeremy Chan, a former information technology professional who is now the programme executive for the mental health charity Resilience Collective, said he could relate to the film's protagonist.

Mr Chan said he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression after his elderly mother, whom he had been caring for, died in 2014.

He said the hardest part of seeking help was the stigma of being seen as having a mental health condition.

More recently, he said he had struggled with adjusting to new norms during the circuit breaker period.

"Most of us felt the blurred lines between work and family commitments, and the question of how we are going to carry on with our lives not knowing what's ahead and with so many restrictions."

Another speaker, Ms Gayathri Sandrasegaran, a senior social worker from Viriya Community Services, said she noticed more people from middle-income households seeking mental health help between April and June.

The issues were also more complex compared with before the Covid-19 outbreak, she said, with more seeking help for emotional needs and family problems like parenting difficulties.

Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua, who was also on the panel, spoke of the Government's various Covid-19 support schemes.

As part of the campaign, a virtual Beyond the Label Fest will be held this weekend on the campaign's Facebook and YouTube pages.

The outreach events include a virtual concert featuring local artists like Stefanie Sun, Kit Chan, Tosh Zhang, Taufik Batisah, The Freshman, Neko Highway, Ramli Sarip, and musicians from 3am Music Collective.

There will also be workshops on various activities such as chocolate making and Tabata exercise, as well as dialogues on mental health-related topics.

The full event listing can be found on the NCSS website.

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