Youth with mental health issues can soon get help closer to home under new programme

President Halimah Yacob (right) and SAMH vice-president Lee Cheng at the launch of Curiography on March 15, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
SAMH art therapist Mahesh Iyer performing at the launch of Curiography, a virtual photo exhibition by SAMH on March 15, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Young people facing mental health issues can soon receive care closer to their homes under a new community-based programme.

Four social service agencies (SSAs) have been roped in under a pilot to help those aged between 13 and 19, and who have mild-to-moderate symptoms.

Under the initiative, they will get help for conditions such as stress-related disorders, depression, addictions and self-harm behaviour.

The programme will cover two groups of youth. They are those who have sought help at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) but were not admitted and may still require some community support, and those who were discharged from a psychiatric ward or are receiving follow-up treatment at specialist clinics.

The programme, launched by President Halimah Yacob on Tuesday (March 15), will be run by Club Heal, Singapore Association For Mental Health (SAMH), Singapore Children's Society and Touch Community Services.

It is funded by the President's Challenge (PC) charity in conjunction with IMH.

The pilot will be carried out in phases, starting with SSAs recruiting allied health professionals such as psychologists and social workers.

Training will be carried out by IMH for these staff from April to December, and IMH will start referring cases to the SSAs from January next year.

Madam Halimah noted in her speech that there are also many who fear stigmatisation in seeking help at IMH.

"More can be done to build a community of care, by equipping SSAs with the capabilities to provide basic assessment and timely interventions," she said.

The PC-IMH programme will serve as an important bridge between hospitalisation and home care for youth with mental health issues, she added.

IMH will compile and provide a set of common training requirements to the four SSAs. The training will cover interview and assessment skills, as well as an understanding of the common mental health conditions.

Associate Professor Lee Cheng, IMH clinical director at the Office of Population Health, said: "Recovering from a mental health condition is often daunting for our youth, but if there is a social service partner journeying with them, they can be better assured of a good recovery."

Such an initiative comes on the back of the rising incidence of mental health issues among youth in recent years. Madam Halimah noted that the number seen at IMH for depression has increased by about 60 per cent between 2015 and 2020.

President Halimah Yacob speaking at the launch of Curiography on March 15, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said last year that teachers will get enhanced professional development on mental health literacy "as a baseline", to further strengthen their abilities to identify and support students in need.

The Ministry of Education also aims to deploy more than 1,000 teacher-counsellors in the next few years.

The PC-IMH initiative received a boost, with a $1.5 million contribution from Ngee Ann Kongsi and $500,000 from Raffles Medical Group.

Dr Loo Choon Yong, executive chairman of Raffles Medical Group, said: "There is a need for this initiative as we know that Covid-19 has put a lot of stress on the mental health of youth. We do not want our youth to get into trouble with the pandemic stress added onto their usual stress."

Besides the pandemic, Ngee Ann Kongsi president James Teo Wee Wee also noted the impact social media can have on youth.

"What youth experience and see on social media can have a deep psychological impact on them. Some of these youth do not have the proper avenue to go to, so with the establishment of these centres in the community, youth or their parents are able to get help more easily," he said.

On Tuesday, a virtual photo exhibition was launched by SAMH, featuring works by 13 individuals, aged 15 to 30, who face mental health challenges.

The event encourages youth to exercise curiosity in their daily lives through photography. Research has shown that this would also enhance their mental well-being.

The public can view the exhibition at this website until March 31.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.