New help centre for carers of mentally ill

Counsellor Chong Yuh Fen (standing) and volunteer Patrick Choon speaking with a caregiver last week at IMH. The NCSS said it is setting aside S$5.5 million to support 22 mental health schemes this financial year.
PHOTO: New help centre for carers of mentally ill

SINGAPORE - Caregivers of people with mental illness can look forward to more help and support with the opening of a new centre at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

Staff and volunteers from the Caregivers Support Centre, located at the entrance of IMH, will be on hand to reach out to and befriend distressed caregivers who may be there with their loved ones, to offer counselling or just a listening ear.

The centre was established in December last year with funding from the National Council of Social Service (NCSS). Much more can be done here to support those with mental illness and the people around them, said the council.

That is why the NCSS, which is the national coordinating body for voluntary welfare organisations, plans to make mental health a key area of focus this year.

It said it is setting aside S$5.5 million to support 22 mental health programmes this financial year, almost 50 per cent more than the S$3.7 million disbursed in the previous year.

According to the Singapore Mental Health Study released three years ago, more than one in 10 people in Singapore will be stricken by mental illness in their lifetime. In the study, depression emerged as the most pervasive mental illness here, projected to affect 170,000 adults at some stage of their life.

The funding from the NCSS will be used to help those recovering from mental illness to find jobs, and start support groups for those with depression and bipolar disorders, among other things.

The support centre at IMH is run by the Caregivers Alliance, the only organisation here whose sole aim is to help caregivers of mentally ill persons.

"Signs of distress may not be easily visible sometimes, so our approach is to start a conversation with caregivers, provide a listening ear and help after assessing their needs," said Caregivers Alliance executive director Sally Thio.

Other programmes in the pipeline include Project Hire (Help Integrate Recovering Persons With Mental Illness Through Employment) and Project Resilienz.

Project Hire hopes to get 100 employers to offer 200 recovering mental patients job opportunities in the next five years. Project Resilienz involves training students with disabilities in mainstream schools to be mentally resilient by equipping them with better social and communication skills.

Studies overseas have shown that students with disabilities who are in mainstream schools have a high chance of developing mental health issues because they find it challenging to fit in with their classmates.

Project Resilienz will be piloted later this year, starting with students who are visually impaired.

A 55-year-old woman who received help from the new Caregivers Support Centre recently said she is glad that there is now more attention placed on those affected by mental illnesses.

The housewife, who asked not to be named, has a teenage son who suffers from depression.

"Mental illness can be a tiring and lonely journey for both the patient and the caregiver," she said. "But with enough support, it can be a time that bonds people together more strongly."

This article was first published on August 4, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.