New moves to enhance community care for mental health

Resources for mental health will be strengthened so people having difficulties can be identified early and supported.

For instance, half of Singapore's polyclinics are expected to have mental health clinics by 2021.

The Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Singapore's main psychiatric hospital, will also support more patients in the transition back home after discharge.

These are part of a five-year Community Mental Health Masterplan to be launched this year that will also cover training for front-line staff and boosting of community care.

Yesterday, Senior Minister of State Amy Khor told Parliament the Ministry of Health (MOH) will enhance community care by improving early identification, strengthening response, expanding mental health services in polyclinics, boosting integrated health and social care services, and broadening the reach of IMH's post-discharge care.

Having mental health clinics in polyclinics will allow patients with dementia, depression, anxiety and insomnia to be cared for near their homes. People with chronic physical ailments may also be vulnerable to mental health conditions which could then be identified early, said an MOH spokesman.

She was replying to MPs Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC), Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC), NCMP Dennis Tan of the Workers' Party and Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), who asked about support for mental health.

Having mental health clinics in polyclinics will allow patients with dementia, depression, anxiety and insomnia to be cared for near their homes. People with chronic physical ailments may also be vulnerable to mental health conditions which could then be identified early, said an MOH spokesman.

Meanwhile, IMH's aftercare support will go to 3,000 more patients over the next five years, on top of the current 8,000, said Dr Khor. Staff follow up with the selected discharged patients, who usually have severe conditions, for at least 12 months to ensure they are well, and are going for medical appointments or taking medication as instructed.

Dr Khor said the number of community outreach teams will also go up from 18 to 50 by 2021.

Generally run by voluntary welfare organisations and charities, their main role is to educate the public on mental health and reach out to vulnerable people. The number of allied health community intervention teams will also grow from 14 to 18 by 2021. Comprising professionals such as counsellors, occupational therapists and psychologists, teams conduct home visits, assess and counsel people with mental health needs.

Such home visits have helped Mr Wee (not his real name), 67, who suffers from schizophrenia.

He tends to have delusions about neighbours wanting to harm him.

He had to quit his security guard job in 2000 and has been hospitalised in IMH thrice since 2006, for at least two months each time.

But his condition has improved since a social worker from Peace-Connect began visiting him weekly from September 2015.

"It's important that I can speak about my problems to him," said Mr Wee, who is unemployed and lives alone. "I feel more confident and less fearful."

To help coordinate care better, the Agency for Integrated Care will act as a "first responder" to mental health needs identified in the community, said Dr Khor.

"By 2021, we target to respond to and support about 1,000 cases a year, up from the current 500."

Also on the cards is training of the front-line staff of selected government and social service agencies to spot and respond to individuals with mental health needs.

These include government agencies such as the Housing Board and the National Environment Agency, as well as the police, she said.

Madam Rosemary Lim, a grassroots volunteer in MacPherson, said such knowledge may spur the public to be more understanding.

"When people are more aware, they can be more tolerant and more willing to help out," said the 60-year-old, who is involved in active ageing efforts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'New moves to enhance community care for mental health'. Print Edition | Subscribe