Mental health: More needs to be done

While a majority of children in Singapore have better material comforts than their counterparts elsewhere, studies on their mental health are not so encouraging 

Time for more play and less stress Toy (churning of the sea of milk) by Svay Sareth, Cambodia, at Singapore Biennale 2013

Time for more play and less stress
Toy (churning of the sea of milk) by Svay Sareth, Cambodia, at Singapore Biennale 2013

When some international surveys [read Gallup] proclaim that Singapore is the least emotional country in the world, the common rebuttal is because life here is tough, residents are too stressed to care. But if this stress is being transferred to the younger generation as well, it's time to take note, and may be, initiate corrective actions.

Few years ago, a study had indicated that while one in eight children in Singapore have emotional disorders, and one in 20 have behavioural disorders, only 10% ever see a psychiatrist. The study, “Emotional and behavioural problems in Singaporean children based on parent, teacher and child reports,” also noted that up to 17.2% of primary school children have symptoms of depression. [Woo et al 2007 Singapore Med J]

In another study of 600 children aged between 6-12 years, “Suicidal behaviour in children and adolescents – prevalence and risk factors”, done by doctors of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Singapore, it was reported that 22% of those surveyed indicated having harboured suicidal tendencies. [Liew et al, 2009] 

Daniel Fung, chairman of medical board at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), in his presentation “Child Psychiatry without Psychiatry: developing a comprehensive youth mental health system that is cost effective for Singapore”, at the 8th public health and occupational medicine conference discussed the issue recently.

While discussing the state of mental health disorders in children, Fung noted the rise in number of cases from 533 in 1980 to 3051 in 2010. Fung also noted the number of potential patients with mental health disorders among children to be more than 87,000 as the population below 15 years stands at 878,148. [assuming 10 percent prevalence]

Fung has also co-authored a book, “Feeling blue – a guide to handling teenage depression,” with Rebecca Ang and Carolyn Kee. The authors have noted the worrying trend of young suicides over the last decade in Singapore.

Another startling figure comes from the IMH's Reach scheme, which set up as a hotline for schools in 2007. The numbers of calls to the hotline reached over 8,000 in 2011 from a modest 306 in its initial year. Even the number of children refereed to Reach by schools rose to 739 from just 14 in the same four years.

"Reach or Response, Early Intervention and Assessment in Community Mental Health, is a mental healthcare service, set up to work closely with schools, voluntary welfare organizations (VWOs), and general practitioners (GPs), to help students with emotional, social and/or behavioural issues within the community,” informs the Health Promotion Board.

While some increase in the number of cases reaching Reach can be attributed to the helpline being extended to more schools, studies by the IMH do indicate a worrying trend.

 

Click here to learn more on HPB advisory for your child's mental well-being.