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Message for World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2020

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{ Article by Dr Ang Yong Guan on World Mental Health Day }

This year’s World Health Organisation’s Mental Health Day campaign slogan is Move for mental health: let’s invest.1 One reason for WHO to call for greater investment in mental health this year is the on-going COVID-19 pandemic that is currently plaguing the whole world causing an increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

 In Singapore, a survey conducted by a marketing communications agency shows that 3 in 4 Singaporeans and permanent residents are feeling anxious about the impact of COVID-19 on our economy with 78% concerned about the unemployment rate and 73% worried about health-related issues.2

 The past few months have been difficult for many Singaporeans from all walks of life. The hardest hit are the front-line healthcare workers because they not only provide care under difficult circumstances but have to constantly worry about bringing the virus home. Next are the workers whose livelihoods are threatened; many are asked to leave their jobs as their companies have either scaled down or closed their businesses. Business owners are also finding it hard to sustain their businesses. Working or studying from home has also brought about its own set of problems. Persons with mental health conditions and their caregivers are also feeling intensified stress as they both adjust to social isolation and periodic changes in COVID-19 rules. 

On another note, one question we need to ask is: Will the current COVID-19 crisis lead to a higher suicide rate for 2020?

The year before COVID-19, in 2019, 400 Singaporeans committed suicide. 94 out of 400 were citizens below 29 years of age; that is, 1 in 4 were young Singaporeans.3

400 is a number that far exceeds the number of COVID-19 deaths (27 at the time of writing); suicide is a serious matter which we cannot afford to ignore.

Given the surge in the stress level we are facing against a backdrop of uncertainty, let us take heed of WHO’s call for greater investment in mental health in this present COVID-19 climate, both at an individual and national levels.

 At the national level, the COVID-19 task force should give priority to invest more in resources to boost the mental health of those vulnerable Singaporeans; psychosocial support should be made easily available and accessible to those who need it most. It is not just about economic recovery as we face a new normal; mental health counts too.

 At the individual level, Singaporeans must continue to take care of their own mental health as they brave themselves to cope with this seemingly long-standing pandemic. Mental health, they must realise, is a crucial component of health (the others are physical, social and spiritual). In essence, mental health is about how we feel, think and behave. It is also about how we relate to others and how we play our various roles in our lives.

 As much as we practise social distancing to prevent the virus from entering our bodies, I would recommend “mental distancing” within ourselves to prevent the stressors of this pandemic from undermining our mental well-being.

 What is mental distancing? It is about detaching ourselves regularly from the stressors we face daily so that we can take stock, refresh and renew ourselves each day. It is taking time off to distance our minds from the stressors by indulging in activities such as exercise, hobbies, meditation etc. which promote relaxation, reflection and rejuvenation. A refreshed mind is then better equipped to face the uncertainties of the current crisis.

 Mental distancing is an aspect of self-care; a gentler and more compassionate way of viewing ourselves and strengthening our resolve and resilience to deal with this pandemic.

Let us together move for mental health.

Let us invest in mental distancing.

 

Dr  Ang Yong Guan

6  October 2020

  1. World Health Organisation. https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/world-mental-health-day-2020/world-mental-health-day-campaign
  1. 3 in 4 polled feel anxious over impact of Covid-19. (Straits Times, 25 Sep 2020)
  1. Number of suicides continues to be highest among those in their 20s: SOS (Today,
    3 August 2020) 

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