'Eyes and ears' on ground pick up vital signs

WHEN an 80-year-old woman said her neighbours threw oil on her window, Kembangan Chai- Chee (KCC) grassroots volunteers initially thought it was a case of unhappy neighbours.

And when they visited her, they found a dark and untidy house - but no signs of oil.

"She appeared incoherent when she spoke, so we suspected something else was wrong," said Ms Eileen Teo, one of 128 grassroots leaders in the constituency trained to spot signs of mental illness.

They flagged this case for discussion at a meeting with the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), the Institute for Mental Health (IMH), the Housing Board and other on-the-ground agencies.

It was decided that social workers should visit the woman, suspected by doctors to be suffering from mild dementia and delusions. This is one of about 50 cases KCC grassroots leaders have highlighted under the WeCare@KCC initiative which helps to support needy residents and those with mental illness. Most are discovered through meet-the-people sessions, where sometimes residents with an unkempt appearance or disturbing behaviour turn up. House visits then follow.

Grassroots representatives play a crucial role in tackling mental health issues, Manpower Minister and Marine Parade GRC MP Tan Chuan-Jin told The Straits Times. "They often act as the 'eyes and ears' on the ground, highlighting cases to the experts for help," he said.

The multi-agency meetings every two months have also helped cut through red tape.

Before, Ms Teo had to write to a multitude of agencies - IMH for mental health problems, the police if it involves a public nuisance case, and different social services to seek help for the resident.

"It could be up to 10 agencies. It was frustrating as each agency will work on matters within its own purview," she said. "But now, we meet, e-mail, WhatsApp each other, so everyone is on the same page."

Close cooperation has also made the work of mental health professionals easier.

Dr Kelvin Ng from IMH's community psychiatry division said: "If we know a patient goes to the seniors activity centre to have lunch, for example, we can ask staff there to look out for him, remind him to take his meds or come for appointments."

Grassroots groups interested in setting up networks can approach the AIC, it said. MacPherson already has a similar network. Dr Tan Weng Mooi, AIC's community mental health division chief, said it aims to "deal with potential clients before they become a harm to themselves or others".IN A recent case, an old woman with mental health problems was disturbing strangers and neighbours, who highlighted the issue to grassroots leaders.

The woman did not want to get mental health treatment, and her family members did not want to get involved. Various agencies including the Institute of Mental Health and grassroots leaders managed to resolve this impasse through discussions, and by working closely.

They got consent from a family member to let them take the woman to IMH for treatment on the family's behalf


This article was first published on Nov 8, 2014.
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