Budget debate: Mental health task force will consider setting up permanent agency; lists four focus areas

In 2021, an IMH study found about 13 per cent of more than 1,000 participants here had symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being will consider setting up a national mental well-being office, Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Janil Puthucheary, told Parliament on Wednesday (March 9).

He was responding to questions from Dr Wan Rizal (Jalan Besar GRC), Mr Xie Yao Quan (Jurong GRC) and Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah during the debate on his ministry's budget.

The trio had asked for updates on the progress of the task force, which in August last year took on the responsibility of implementing the recommendations of the Covid-19 Mental Wellness Taskforce.

Dr Shahira also asked if a permanent agency looking after Singapore's mental well-being could be set up, given that the issue is a national concern, and the diverse backgrounds of those with needs to be addressed.

In 2018, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) announced that its Singapore Mental Health Study had found the top three mental health conditions here were major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder.

In 2021, an IMH study found about 13 per cent of more than 1,000 participants here had symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic.

In response to Dr Shahira on Wednesday, Dr Janil said the task force would study her suggestion to set up a mental well-being office.

He also said the inter-agency task force had reviewed the current mental health landscape and found four areas that need to be focused on.

First, there is a need to strengthen family support and services for parents and youth.

Second, mental health literacy among citizens must be improved, with the goal of creating an inclusive society with greater acceptance of those with mental health conditions.

Third, there is a need to provide and boost access to mental healthcare by integrating health and social services.

Finally, there is a necessity to provide employment support for those with mental health conditions.

The task force has also identified the need for better coordination between the health and social service sectors for individuals with mental health needs.

There is also a clear need to increase community touchpoints for access to mental health services, he said.

The Government will better leverage existing health and social care settings for service delivery, and also equip front-line workers with skills to identify people with mental health needs.

Dr Janil said the task force is refining these recommendations, and plans to hold a public consultation in the coming months. After this, a national strategy and action plan will be developed.

Separately, he highlighted that the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) have piloted community teams to provide support services for those aged 12 to 25 who are at risk of, or suspected to have, mental health conditions.

There are two main types of these teams - outreach and youth integrated.

The role of outreach teams is to raise awareness and provide basic emotional support and screening so young people at risk of mental health conditions can be referred for further assessment and intervention.

Youth integrated teams, led by allied health professionals, provide holistic support including outreach, assessment and psycho-social therapeutic interventions for youth with mental health needs.

To date, four youth outreach and two youth-integrated teams have been set up.

Dr Janil noted that some youth who are hospitalised for risk of suicide or severe self-harm may require post-discharge residential care to allow for space and time to integrate back to the community in a more gradual way.

MOH will be developing an intermediate residential facility to address this.

"This will add another therapeutic environment... for young patients and a new range of possible support services," said Dr Janil, adding that further details will be provided soon.

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