Five Members of Parliament from the People’s Action Party have filed a motion calling for a whole-of-nation effort to enhance mental health and well-being in Singapore.
Wan Rizal (Jalan Besar GRC), together with Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang SMC), Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC), who are part of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health, and Edward Chia (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), want the House to recognise the importance of mental health as a health, social and economic issue. They also stress the need to have a robust national mental health ecosystem that is proactive in promoting mental well-being. The motion will be debated in Parliament next week.
Mental health is a pertinent issue that requires attention: Wan Rizal
In an interview with Petir.sg, Wan Rizal said mental health issues significantly impact economy and society. According to a recent study, in Singapore, the economic cost of anxiety and depression amounts to close to $16 billion annually due to lost productivity and healthcare expenditure, he noted.
“Mental health affects people of all ages and backgrounds. It is a pertinent issue that requires attention. More than that, it requires a whole-of-society approach…Mental health issues are complex. As we tackle mental health issues, we shouldn’t tackle it as an individual but as a community. At the same time, we need government support. For example, our polyclinics must be ready to accept mental health patients, our GPs (general practitioners) must be willing to handle first-level issues. If we get these things right, we can ensure our system works,” he added.
Dr Tan, who chairs the Health GPC, told Petir.sg that as people better understand the importance of mental health and mental wellness, policies must keep up too. Hence, the motion will look at the issue across multiple ministries.
“Health and wellness extend across a person’s life – at work, at school, as well as in a healthcare setting. A holistic policy approach must consider these many facets even as it sees through the eyes of our people,” he added.
Wan Rizal said he and his fellow MPs have observed more Singaporeans grappling with challenges relating to mental health issues in recent years.
He recounted how a middle-aged resident had sought assistance for her mental wellbeing after losing all $300,000 of her savings in an online scam.
“She was crying and very worried. At the end of our conversation, she asked if I could help provide mental health support beyond financial help. It’s good to know that she wanted such help. I got my team of volunteers to provide her with peer support,” he added.
Mr Yip said: “In Singapore’s high-pressure, high-cost environment, thousands of seniors likely struggle with mental health challenges like social isolation, loneliness, and dementia. The number of senior suicides has been rising. According to one study, around 5.5 per cent of older Singaporeans experience depression. As a society, are we equipped to handle these challenges? We will need a multifaceted approach to tackle mental health problems among seniors.”
PAP Government has been promoting mental health and well-being
In October 2023, the PAP Government launched a national mental health and well-being strategy to tackle the issue coherently and holistically, from both preventive and curative perspectives, through the community, schools, and workplaces.
A key part of the strategy is the introduction of a tiered model of care that provides support based on the severity of each person’s needs, across health, social and education settings.
The strategy builds upon previous efforts like the National Mental Health Blueprint and Community Mental Health Masterplan launched in 2007 to further enhance mental health and wellbeing.
Commending the government’s efforts in developing the mental health strategy, Wan Rizal said the GPC supports the robust strategy, but also aims to refine it constructively.
“It’s good that we have a strategy, but we must ensure it can be adopted in Singapore because no point having a strategy without a buy-in from the community. We believe we can value add. We want to ensure the concerns of Singaporeans from different groups are heard,” he added.
Over the past few months, Wan Rizal and fellow MPs have engaged different stakeholders to “better understand the mental health landscape, understand their concerns are and what they expected of the strategy”.
He said they will be making several recommendations, which he will reveal during the debate.
MPs will focus on four key areas in advancing mental health
Shedding some light on what this entails, he said the MPs would focus on four key areas in advancing mental health in Singapore. First, expanding the capacity in mental health services; second, enhancing the capabilities for early identification and intervention; third, promoting mental health and well-being and fourth, improving workplace mental health and well-being.
Dr Tan told Petir.sg that he will be speaking on access to insurance for persons with mental health conditions. He raised the topic of health insurance in an op-ed as a concerned healthcare professional in 2013, and again in Parliament last year.
“The commercial health insurance market can and should serve a public good. Regulators should ensure that healthcare insurers do not inappropriately or disproportionately discriminate against persons with pre-existing conditions, for example persons with mental health conditions. Only then can we build a fairer and more just society for fellow Singaporeans,” he added.
Mr Yip said: “I will speak about the need for a targeted approach to meet the diverse needs of seniors. We also must focus on building social networks for seniors and ensuring affordable, convenient access to quality mental health services.”
To Wan Rizal, not all patients with mental health issues need medication. It could be tackled as a broad structure, “sometimes change is about getting somebody to talk to them, a change in lifestyle”.
“Individuals can play their own roles. That means they need to learn coping mechanism, they need to know psychological first aid so that they can help their friends,” he added.
Source of feature image: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.