We’re always joking about slaving our lives away, but that’s only because it’s true — very often, living, studying and working in Singapore can feel like being a pressure cooker.
According to the second Singapore Mental Health Study (published Dec 2018), 1 in 7 people in Singapore has experienced a mood, anxiety or alcohol-use disorder in their lifetime.
And of the conditions assessed, major depressive disorder (or major depression) was the most common, affecting 1 in 16 people here.
The study also found that many of those struggling didn't seek professional help. Past research suggests it could be due to the stigma of mental illness and the inability to recognise the symptoms.
And this was during post-Covid-19 times. With the current pandemic turning everyone's lives topsy-turvy, the resulting stress is probably affecting mental health even more now.
This year, the Ministry of Education is focusing more on mental wellness in schools by refreshing its Character and Citizenship Education Curriculum. In addition, peer support structures will be established next year.
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be fighting mental illness, know that affordable (and even free) help is available. You can even consider getting mental health insurance.
Free counselling in Singapore
Many churches and other religious organisations have volunteers who help with counselling. It may be problematic though, if you are practising another religion. But there's no harm in finding out what they may have to offer. Some churches like Wesley Methodist Church explicitly state on their website that they have non-religious counselling as well.
Where to get free counselling help
|Organisation||Contact information||What it offers|
|Silver Ribbon Singapore||6386-1928 (H.O.L.A. at Serangoon Central)
6509-0271 (The Linkage at (Wisma Geylang Serai)
6385-3714 (Raintree Sanctuary at Hougang St 51)
|Free basic counselling services in person. Weekdays only, from 9am to 5pm. Appointments required.|
|Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)||Call 1800-283 7019||A helpline for all mental health-related help.
In-person donation-based counselling sessions available. Free if your finances are tight. Appointments required. Weekdays only, from 9am to 6pm.
|Aware||Call 1800-777 5555||A helpline for women|
|Care Corner Counselling Centre||Call 1800-353 5800||A Mandarin counselling helpline|
|Fei Yue eCounselling Centre||Visit www.ec2.sg||An online counselling channel for youths (13 to 25 years old)|
|Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)||Call 1800-221 4444||A 24-hour suicide prevention helpline|
|Tinkle Friend (by Singapore Children's Society)||Call 1800-274 4788||A helpline and chat-line for primary school children. (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)|
Affordable counselling services in Singapore
If budget is a concern, then the free counselling services are the first ones to check out. However, with all free (or heavily subsidised) healthcare services, it may be hard to get a first appointment. And if you decide to continue, the time between sessions will probably be longer than recommended.
If you can afford to pay a bit for counselling, there are some affordable and subsidised options too.
|Counselling services in Singapore||Counselling fees|
|AWARE (for women only)||1 per cent of your monthly income (capped at $150; minimum fee is $20 for those who are unemployed)|
|Shan You||$80 per session (individual counselling); $100 per session (couple/ family counselling)|
|Counselling and Care Centre||$40 to $150 per hour for Singaporean/PR earning under $10,000 monthly (full rate at $180 per hour)|
|Calvary Community Care (C3)||$50 per session, $5 for those who need financial assistance|
|WINGS Counselling Centre||$80 for the first session, $60 for follow-up sessions|
|Grace Counselling Centre||Fees from $130/ $180 per hourly session|
|Singapore Counselling Centre||Fees from $181.90 for 1 session|
Aware (for women only)
Aware is a gender-equality advocacy group that helps women fight discrimination and other issues.
The counselling fees are charged at 1 per cent of your monthly income (capped at $150). For example, if you earn $3,000 monthly, you will pay $30 per session.
For those who are not working, it will be $20. For sexual assault and harassment cases through the Sexual Assault Care Centre, the first three sessions are free.
Shan You is a non-profit organisation with Buddhist roots, but is not religious - they just follow the generic guiding values of compassion, mindfulness, morality and wisdom.
It charges $80 per session (50 to 60 mins) for an individual, and $100 per session (65 to 75 mins) for a couple or a family. The fees are already subsidised, but if it's still too expensive for you, ask if you are eligible for additional fee subsidy, based on a financial assessment.
Counselling and Care Centre
Counselling and Care Centre is a non-government, non-profit, registered charity offering professional counselling services.
Counselling is $180 per hour, which seems steep. However, they have a subsidy system that offers lower rates as long as you earn less than $10,000 monthly. You have to be a Singaporean or PR though.
Also, do note that if you make an after-hours appointment (available on Monday and Wednesday only) beyond 5.30pm, there is a $10 hourly surcharge. If you cancel your session, you will still need to pay 50 per cent of the fee.
Calvary Community Care
Known as C3, this social service agency was founded by the Calvary Baptist Church in 2010 and provides support to children, youth and seniors.
Their counselling service is for youth aged 13 to 25 and have experience with youths who face abuse and trauma, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, grief, self-harm and have demonstrated thoughts of suicide.
They encourage youths to get parental consent before going for counselling. Some may find it challenging, but they can call or write in for advice, before going ahead with counselling.
Wings Counselling Centre
WINGS Counselling Centre was founded in 1995 from NCSS, as a pilot project called Ramakrishna Mission Counselling Centre (RMCC). It started off focusing on guidance for troubled youth in neighbourhood schools, but it’s since evolved to offer support for families and other individuals as well.
Counselling is $80 for the first session, and $60 for each follow-up session. Full and partial waivers are available at the discretion of the centre.
Grace Counselling Centre
Grace Counselling Centre is Singapore’s first Christian counselling centre, formed in 2009. But although a Christ-centred organisation, they do non-religious counselling too.
The fees are slightly steeper than those above: for individuals, it's $150 for a one-hour session. The $180 fee applies to its counselling psychologist (Kirby Chua). The sessions are all held online via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or WhatsApp. Face-to-face counselling sessions are available too and the fees vary from $150 to $300 (for home visits).
Singapore Counselling Centre
Singapore Counselling Centre offers professional counselling in not just English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, but Chinese dialects Cantonese and Hokkien too.
Their services are also available 7 days a week, which may be good for those working on the weekdays.
SCC offers different rates for individuals, couples, families and children and youth. A one-session package is $160.60 for individuals, $235.40 for couples, $160.50 for children and youth and $363.80 for families (four pax).
You can buy up to 10-session packages, and save 10 per cent to 20 per cent on the per-session rates. There’s also a choice to see senior counsellors, but they are slightly more expensive.
Mental stress is not mental illness
There is a difference between feeling troubled or stressed and clinical mental illness. Depending on which you are struggling with, counselling may or may not be enough or even helpful.
Counselling involves talking about your difficulties and working through your problems with a counsellor. It is usually the first step to seeking help. However, if you or a loved one suspect a mental disorder, it may be better to see a psychiatrist instead.
As a medical professional, they would be able to diagnose your condition and prescribe the right medication for it (if needed).
Using Medisave for mental illnesses
If you didn't know, Medisave can be used for psychiatric treatment too. For inpatient treatment, you can use up to $150 per day for daily hospital charges, capped at $5,000 per year. Those aged 60 and above may withdraw another $200 per year under the Flexi-MediSave scheme.
Since Jan 1, 2021, the enhanced MediSave500/700 scheme has enabled patients with complex chronic conditions to use up to $700 each yearly, while those with simple chronic conditions can use up to $500 each yearly. Outpatient treatments for 20 chronic diseases include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, dementia and anxiety. You'll have to pay a 15 per cent co-payment though.
For reference, these are the charges at IMH.
Subsidised Outpatient Charges At IMH:
|IMH Outpatient treatment||Subsidised fees (based on minimum subsidy)|
|First consultation — adult||$40|
|Subsequent consultation — adult||$37|
|First consultation — child or adolescent||$45|
|Subsequent consultation — child or adolescent||$42|
|Emergency attendance fee||$120|
Subsidised inpatient Charges At IMH:
|IMH inpatient treatment||Subsidised fees for C ward (based on maximum subsidy)||Subsidised fees for B2 ward (based on maximum subsidy)|
|Daily ward fee||$32||$61|
|Daily treatment fee||$15||$31|
For hospitalisation, you will be given financial counselling on your estimated bill size upon admission. A deposit is typically collected at the same time, even if you use Medisave (unless your Medisave fully covers it).
For IMH, Medisave cannot be used for outpatient fees and tests (except on approved chronic disease management diagnoses), and hospital stays for less than 8 hours.
You will not be denied admission if you cannot cough up the cash. Instead, those with financial difficulties will be referred to their in-house medical social workers.
Know someone in a deep mental funk? Share this to recommend some avenues for seeking help.
This article was first published in MoneySmart .