More young people seek help for depression

A posed photo of a depressed person. One reason for suicide among young people is relationship problems with peers or family members.
PHOTO: More young people seek help for depression

SINGAPORE - Depression is hitting young people hard, and a growing number are choosing to seek help.

The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) helped 600 people aged 20 to 29 last year, compared with 550 the year before. Similarly, the National University Hospital treated about 120 people aged 19 to 29 last year, up from 45 in 2013.

Doctors say it is encouraging that more young adults are coming forward because early treatment helps prevent relapses and, in severe cases, suicides.

Latest figures from help group the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) show the age range most at risk of suicide is 20 to 29. There were 83 suicides in this range in 2013, almost double the figure from two years earlier.

Doctors and counsellors say those in the prime of their lives are finding it hard to bear up under the pressure of increasing competition in the workplace, keeping up with the material success of their peers as well as gaining independence quickly.

"Compared to the past, there is an increasing pressure to attain independence more quickly by renting a space of their own or relocating overseas for work," said Dr Mok Yee Ming, head of the Mood Disorder Unit at IMH.

"The concept of material success may have shifted over the years and young people may impose pressure on themselves to attain that level of success."

Executive director of SOS Christine Wong said this period is a time of transition and adjustment for young people, yet many of them are unable to turn to their loved ones for support.

"They may face difficulties balancing work and personal life or of starting their own families, yet they are not able to share their troubles with parents or siblings," she said.

About one in five of the young people who wrote to SOS for help cited depression as one of the triggers for their distress or suicidal thoughts.

These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, counsellors say.

Findings from the large-scale Singapore Mental Health Study released in 2011 showed that one in seven young people fell prey to mental illness by the age of 30.

A recent survey of 393 young people conducted by final-year students of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University found one out of four respondents aged 18 to 25 reporting that they suffered from more than four out of 10 symptoms of depression. This indicated that they may be at risk of suffering from the illness.

Stigma remains one of the key reasons most do not seek help early enough.

"Many are afraid that their future will be affected, and ask if their employers or government agencies have computer access to their medical records, which they don't," said Dr Victor Kwok, a consultant at Singapore General Hospital.

To reach out to more young people, the National University Hospital has, over the past year, started screening youth with chronic illnesses associated with a high risk of depression.

With the support of IMH, students from Nanyang Technological University are also running a campaign to reach out to youth aged 18 to 25. The students will be holding roadshows at tertiary institutions next month to raise awareness of the condition and avenues that they can turn to for help.

Student Tan Deyong, 24, who is part of the team behind the survey and campaign, said: "We come across friends who we think may have depression but we are not sure and we don't know how to broach it with them, so we hope to equip youth in these areas."

This article was first published on January 25, 2015.
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