Youth Mental well-being

Social workers cheer plans to have more school counsellors

Mental health advocates and social service agencies welcome having more school counsellors in Singapore's labour-strapped mental health system.

But they say structural barriers should be addressed too.

Former NMP Anthea Ong said the plan to increase the number of teacher counsellors deployed in schools from more than 700 to over 1,000 in the next few years is a first step in aiding "grossly under-resourced schools" in mental health support for students.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing had announced the "near term" measures in Parliament last Tuesday in his ministerial statement.

Currently, every Ministry of Education school has one or two counsellors.

Ms Ong, who is the founder of initiative SG Mental Health Matters, which reviews Singapore's mental health policies, added: "You can increase from one to two or three counsellors per school but how they are trained, evaluated and given continuous development is what matters."

High costs for treatment, long wait times and social stigma are among key barriers that social workers and mental health advocates say remain unsolved.

According to the Institute of Mental Health's website, using MediSave to pay for inpatient psychiatric treatment is limited to $150 per day and a maximum of $5,000 each year. It can also be used for outpatient treatment of schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, subject to a 15 per cent co-payment by the patient for each claim.

In January last year, the Health Ministry said the waiting time for new subsidised appointments at public hospitals in 2018 was 27 days to see a psychiatrist and 28 days to see a psychologist. Head of Shine Children and Youth Services' community outreach team ResiL!ence Eric Sng said private treatment can range between $4,000 and $5,000 with an average rate of $120 per session.

But the vigour directed towards addressing gaps in the system in the past two weeks has given some hope.

Ms Geraldine Tan, a mother of three children aged between 12 and 20, said: "Many friends, with young who harbour suicidal thoughts, have asked me what (school) counselling is like since one of my children received such help after being bullied in secondary school.

"I tell them that the system has benefited my children as well as myself," she added. "And I hope that, with more acceptance, many can seek help for mental health like we do for other illnesses."

Ang Qing

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 01, 2021, with the headline Social workers cheer plans to have more school counsellors. Subscribe