Mental health issues amongst elderly worry me the most: Ong Ye Kung


Healthier SG will ultimately feature mental health support. The PAP Government is currently working on measures for making this happen.

This was Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung’s assurance to students at the Yale-NUS College President’s Speaker Series on Monday (Oct 10) evening.

“Mental health is important,” stated Minister Ong.

Then, he explained why it does not presently feature in Healthier SG’s start.

“We have to prioritise the number that we can reasonably implement smoothly. So, we started with chronic illnesses, especially those that accompany older folks.”

Mental health issues, too, require “a more sophisticated and comprehensive response first, before we even come up with a protocol”, added the Minister, who also noted that Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary has been working on this as long as the ministry has been working on Healthier SG. notes here that other Party MPs like Dr Wan Rizal, Mr Melvin Yong and Ms Tin Pei Ling have also raised the issue of mental health during the Healthier SG debate in Parliament last week.

“We intend to have a protocol for the GPs,” Minister Ong said.

“Are GPs ready? Nah — here’s a protocol. Go implement. Look out for mental health; this is what you do. (They) may not be ready.”

After being briefed by SMS Janil on the measures to be taken, Minister Ong described them as “comprehensive”.

“It involves expanding our clinical capacity, especially at Alexandra Hospital, expanding the number of outreach in the community, expanding the number of counsellors and also bringing it into teaching in schools, supporting education institutions, the works.”

“So I think we will tackle mental health issues from that angle first, and then work it into Healthier SG. Which we intend to.”

Taking care of ah gong and ah ma

The Minister noted that mental health issues among the elderly worry him the most.

“As families become more and more nuclearised, the aged are left living alone, and that’s when they can develop serious mental health issues because of isolation,” he said.

“And once that happens, your body gives way. Your spirit gives way. As I mentioned in Parliament, it’s equivalent to giving them 15 cigarettes a day.”

“So what is really important in tackling any of the mental health issues, is actually setting up a very supportive framework and structure to allow our seniors to age in place. New social context with friends that they can choose,” said Minister Ong.

To this end, the Government is expanding its network of Eldercare Centres and working closely with the Agency for Integrated Care to create more shared spaces and programmes for the elderly.

The Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being

The #BetterTogether initiative which raises awareness and collective action for mental health in Singapore is ongoing, as well as the Care Network-Living Well initiative for seniors at Cheng San Community Centre, notes.

The Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being which SMS Janil chairs has given 12 preliminary recommendations for enhancing the mental health and well-being of Singaporeans.

These are across the three focus areas of improving accessibility, coordination and quality of mental health services, strengthening services and support for youth mental well-being and improving workplace well-being measures and employment support.

These recommendations come about from public consultations with over 800 people. 

And the small group engagement sessions which the taskforce conducts had, by end-May 2022, involved 400 stakeholders including youths, parents, healthcare institutions, social service agencies, employers, and persons with mental health conditions and their caregivers.

The National Mental Health and Well-being Strategy, which is currently being developed, will consider findings from additional public consultations. It will be published in 2023.

Cover photo credit: Yale NUS