ADVANCING MENTAL HEALTH: That this House recognises the importance of mental health as a health, social and economic issue; affirms the importance of a robust national mental health ecosystem; and calls for a whole-of-Singapore effort to implement a national strategy to enhance mental health and well-being.
Mr Speaker Sir,
Mental health issues are not only a personal struggle; it is also a challenge to the whole society that demands our collective attention and concerted efforts. It is heartening that the Government has published a National Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy, outlining comprehensive moves to tackle this challenge from multiple angles.
I support the measures proposed in the paper and would like to make a few additional suggestions and seek some clarifications.
Mental health disorders have been rising over the years to become one of the most common illnesses. Has there been a study to examine what are the possible causes or the common risk factors? If causal effects cannot be determined, can we identify the risk factors that are common in many of the mental health cases? For example, do many of the patients come from dysfunctional families? Or perhaps parents with a history of mental health issues? Are the cases correlated to social economic status or poor performance in work or school? Do patients have supportive environment in terms of family members, friends, teachers, bosses or colleagues? If we are able to identify the highest risk factors, it can guide us on where we should focus our efforts. If such a study has been done, can MOH share the results? If not, would MOH consider doing one?
Pre-Covid, post-natal depression affected one in 14 women while pre-natal depression affected one in eight women. It is critical that we improve our capacity to care for, treat, and support women going through pre- and post-natal depression and anxiety as we make efforts to increase our birth rate. Owing to concerns over the rise in the number of pregnant women or new mothers with depression, KK Hospital has introduced depression screening for all pregnant women since early last year. Can MOH update us on how effective this measure has been and whether there are plans to expand this to all hospitals and clinics including private ones?
In hospitals, patients’ historical medical records are at the fingertips of the doctors in charge as these contain critical information for medical decisions. For patients with mental health disorders, are their mental health conditions and history also similarly available to the doctors? Often, doctors need to brief patients on the possible side effects of certain treatments or the risks of surgery or present difficult choices for the patient to make. Patients with mental health issues may not be able to handle such information or choices. If doctors have access to mental health information as well it can help them know better how to handle communications with the patients.
Mr Speaker, I would next like to turn our attention to the youth. Recently, the teenager who killed a River Valley High School student was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment for his actions. We have learnt through the trial proceedings that his major depressive disorder was one of three major factors that contributed to the killing. This underscores the urgency of prioritizing the mental well-being of our students.
During the parliamentary sitting on 27 July 2021 after this tragic incident, I urged the Minister for Education to consider implementing measures to monitor our students’ mental well-being regularly and systematically, similar to the way we monitor their academic achievements and physical fitness every year. Today, I would like to reiterate this call. This can be in the form of questionnaires that measure stress level, anxiety, and depression. Similar tools have also been developed in MindSG and Mindline which allow users to do self-assessments on their own stress levels and mental health risks. These tools however rely on the users themselves taking the initiative. The students who most need help may not take this initiative. Conducting a mental health assessment each year using developed tools will help us identify students who need help and proactively reach out to them so that we can prevent such a tragic incident from happening again.
In his Ministerial Statement, the Minister stated that MOE will strengthen the support network in our schools and ensure that all teachers will receive enhanced professional development on mental health literacy as a baseline. I would like to ask the Minister for an update on the progress and whether all teachers have received adequate training on mental health literacy?
The Minister also said that MOE aims to deploy more than 1000 teacher-counsellors in the next few years. Could I ask how many teacher-counsellors are deployed in schools as of today, and what is the counsellor-student ratio? What percentage of schools have two or more school counsellors? Do larger schools have enough counsellors to serve the entire school population? These are crucial metrics that define the effectiveness of mental health support in our educational institutions, and should be tracked as part of our national mental health strategy.
Specifically for the students and teachers of River Valley High School who were involved in the tragic incident, I would like to ask the Minister what support had been provided to them over the past few years to monitor their mental wellbeing and assist them in getting over the incident? Are they still coping well within our education system or has anyone fallen out of the system? How many teacher-counsellors are deployed in River Valley High School today?
In my conversations with people with mental health conditions, one of the biggest concerns is jobs. Finding a job and keeping it. Both job seekers and employees have reported an increase in discrimination due to mental health conditions. Would the government consider some form of wage subsidy for employers who recruit staff with mental health conditions, similar to the way we used subsidies to encourage employers to employ older workers in the past? Hopefully such a subsidy can compensate for the discrimination.
Another way is to encourage the option of 4-day work week for employees with mental health conditions to reduce their stress levels and make working more manageable and sustainable. This can come with a pro-rated pay just like other part-time employees.
Mr Speaker, in closing, I would like to speak about the importance of being kind. When we were going through very tough times together during the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw many acts of kindness towards one another in the community. People gave out free masks, opened their homes to Malaysian workers who were stranded in Singapore after the Movement Control Order shut down the Causeway, and made special efforts to support F&B businesses that were suffering.
A few weeks ago, my father had a stroke when he was out alone. He was unable to use his handphone to contact us. Fortunately, a student who was nearby came to his assistance. She contacted our family and shared her location with me. With that location, I was able to inform SCDF and the ambulance reached the scene in 10 minutes! To the SCDF officers involved, I wish to thank you for being so excellent in your jobs. The student continued to stay with my father until the ambulance came, which is a great comfort to us when we could not be there. Her kindness is much appreciated by my family. I am grateful for all the people who shine like silver when the clouds are dark.
I hope that as memories of the pandemic recede, we will not forget to continue to be gracious, kind, and empathetic to the people around us, especially those who may be facing difficulties in their lives. This will go a long way towards improving the collective mental health of our society.
In Mandarin, please
几个礼拜前，我父亲独自外出时中风了。他无法使用手机联络我们，幸而得到附近的一名女学生的帮助。她联系了我们的家人并与我分享了她的位置，让我能够通知民防部队。而救护车在 10 分钟内就到抵达现场。我要感谢这些民防部队员， 在工作上出色的表现。这名学生继续陪着我父亲，一直到救护车抵达，这对无法赶到现场的我们来说是一大安慰。我与我的家人非常感谢她的善良。我希望，即便疫情逐渐成为过去，我们不忘继续对周围的人，特别是生活中遇到困难的人，保持仁慈友爱的态度。这对改善社会的集体心理健康大有帮助。
Mr Speaker, the Progress Singapore Party supports the motion. Our collective commitment to the mental well-being of our citizens will define us as a compassionate and progressive society.