SINGAPORE - About 500 men a year have been exempted from National Service (NS) for the last three years due to mental health problems, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament on Thursday.
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Here is the question posed by Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef:
Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef: To ask the Minister for Defence (a) what are the strategies utilised for screening of mental health disorders in national service recruits; and (b) what is being offered in terms of management and counselling for those in the SAF, navy and air force who already have a mental health disorder.
Here is the response by Dr Ng Eng Hen:
Dr Ng Eng Hen: Madam Speaker, the spectrum of mental health disorders within any given population can vary considerably in severity, and because our national servicemen are drawn from the general population, this is also true for national servicemen with mental health disorders.
Further, for the affected individual, if he has a mental condition, that condition may not be static and could worsen or improve over time. So MINDEF's approach for national servicemen with mental health disorders takes into account this variability; variability of conditions across different individuals, the variability of an individual who has the condition over time. And only those who are assessed professionally to be able to perform his National Service (NS) duties are enlisted.
Before enlistment, all pre-enlistees are screened by Medical Officers for psychiatric, behavioural and adjustment problems. The screening guidelines are established by the SAF Psychiatry Specialist Advisory Board, and this comprises senior psychiatrists drawn from private practice and public hospitals.
Pre-enlistees with severe mental illnesses who are unable to perform NS duties are exempted from NS. And in the last 3 years, about 500 were exempted from NS because they had this condition, annually, due to mental health problems. 500 annually.
For those enlisted, we want to ensure that national servicemen with mental health disorders pose no risk to themselves and those around them.
They are monitored while they are serving NS. To protect their medical confidentiality, only the Commanders and the Medical Officers who monitor their progress are notified about their conditions. Should they require closer observation, these national servicemen are seen regularly by psychiatrists at the Psychological Care Centre.