Budget debate 2022: MPs call for more support for those facing mental health issues

Several MPs asked for better support for those in professions such as social work, health care or teaching. ST PHOTO: THADDEUS ANG

SINGAPORE - It is easy to see when a person has a broken leg, but not as easy to tell when someone is suffering from mental health issues.

That is why people can empathise when an injured person cannot walk up the stairs, but may find it hard to understand when a mentally unwell person cannot get out of bed.

To Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC), this is why more needs to be done to drum up mental health awareness.

"Mental health challenges don't fit within a neat little box," she said in Parliament on Tuesday (March 1), the second day of the Budget debate.

She was among several MPs who asked for more to be done for those facing mental health issues, including better support for those in professions such as social work, healthcare or teaching, as well as those doing informal caregiving.

Ms Nadia said Singapore society needs to go beyond awareness and move towards integration and acceptance of people with mental health conditions.

This will ensure that these people are given a fair shot at job interviews, she added, noting that many of them want to work and can contribute to the workforce if they are adequately supported.

She also highlighted the dearth of private insurance plans that cover mental health conditions and urged the Government to incentivise the private sector to provide more options.

A few other MPs spoke about the mental well-being of those who care for others.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who focused his speech on social workers at family service centres, noted that they face heavy caseloads and exhaustion, and are at risk of anxiety and depression.

He recounted dialogues he held with social workers in the past year, during which many said they handled 30 to 50 cases at any one time. One of the social workers had said to him: "If you ever (want to) know what a social worker's mind feels like, imagine a browser with 2,857 tabs open. All the time."

This means they can only devote so much time to each case, said Mr Ng, suggesting imposing a cap on the number of cases that each social worker can take on.

He also proposed an increase in resources for research work at family service centres, so that the centres can crunch data and detect problems in the community before they become more serious.

Another MP concerned about excessive workload was Dr Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah (Jalan Besar GRC), who asked for a review on the work of healthcare workers and educators to ensure work-life balance.

He also proposed that employers review their mental wellness programmes and encourage regular health screening - both physical and mental.

Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah said it was significant that Finance Minister Lawrence Wong had spoken about mental health in his Budget speech, noting it is something that all segments of society have to contend with.

She said while the Covid-19 health crisis have caused added stress for many, mental health issues will not go away even when the pandemic wanes.

As such, even though there is already an inter-agency task force on mental health and well-being, the Government should go one step further by establishing a permanent Mental Well-being Office under the Prime Minister's Office, she added.

Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua, meanwhile, spoke on support for young people who have committed sexual offences, and those whose attitudes towards drugs are "slowly but steadily liberalising".

He said: "Every youth has potential and this applies equally for youth on the fringes of social norms and the law, many of whom would come from the more vulnerable segments of our society."

While the overall number of youth offenders has fallen from 4,174 in 2010 to 2,367 in 2020, the number of youth offenders who committed outrage of modesty or rape offences has increased from 109 in 2016 to 162 in 2020, he noted.

"We will need to invest much more to better understand this nascent trend so that we can better design appropriate upstream interventions," said Mr Chua.

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