$88m boost for mental health care
Sun, Sep 23, 2007
The Straits Times

MENTAL health care, the theme of this year's National Healthy Lifestyle campaign, will get an $88 million shot in the arm over the next five years and another $17 million every year after that.

The Government is also ramping up the number of people trained to deal with mental health problems, shooting for a target of 200 psychiatrists by 2015, up from 111 now.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lent his voice to the campaign yesterday, calling for mental health to be de-stigmatised.


'If you say you're sick, it's okay. If you say your mind is not so good, then people think something is not right with you,' he said at the launch of the campaign at the Botanic Gardens.

'So I think it's good to bring up this subject and encourage people to look at it positively and do something to improve the mental health of Singaporeans.'


He said that, with more knowledge of mental illness, people can recognise the signs and guide friends and family to get help, and provide support in addition to medical treatment.

A Health Ministry statement said an inter-ministry workgroup has been working since February to educate the community on the issue, detect troubling signs early and re-integrate the mentally ill into society.

While it draws up its plans and launches pilot programmes, the Government will make sure enough people are being trained to look after the mentally ill.

It will offer 10 scholarships for nurses to specialise in nursing psychiatry this year. Another 15 fellowships will go to other health care workers every year from next year, to get them trained in areas such as occupational therapy.

It has upped the number of trainees in psychiatry and will offer a new graduate diploma in psychiatry for general practitioners.

The Changi General Hospital will pilot a medical-psychological team to treat adults, while the KK Women's and Children's Hospital will do the same for children.

A mental health survey in 2004 showed that 15.7 of adults suffered from mental health problems such as phobias and mild depression.

Also, 12.5 per cent of children below 12 have problems such as depression and anxiety, while 5.2 per cent of those above 60 have dementia.

Last year, the Institute of Mental Health treated close to 33,000 patients for mental illnesses at its outpatient clinics. Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan told reporters yesterday that, with an ageing population, he expects more illnesses such as dementia to crop up.

But it is not just the elderly who will need mental health services. There are also young drug addicts and gambling addicts who need help.

Mr Khaw pointed out that mental illness covers a wider spectrum from mild depression to more extreme cases.

'Unfortunately, the public's assumption is that all mentally ill people belong to the extreme end,' he said at a multi-racial lantern festival in Woodlands.

He likened public education on mental illness to the Yellow Ribbon movement for ex-convicts. Both initiatives aim to change people's opinions and allow those who have recovered to return to the community.

The Institute of Mental Health said the initiatives are timely and it is looking forward to 'contributing to these exciting developments'.

Psychiatrist Simon Siew also welcomed the news. He said that people need to be educated about mental illness. 'Singaporeans are very aware of physical illness but mental illness is still a taboo subject,' he said.



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