Mental health ‘key priority’ in national agenda; 900 more GP clinics to be added to


WIDE SUITE OF SOLUTIONS 

The national mental health and well-being strategy, which was launched in October last year, aims to provide more tailored care for different needs across the spectrum.

On Wednesday, Mr Wong reiterated the need to appreciate and understand the “full range of mental health issues”. 

On one end, mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be “debilitating”, while issues like anxiety and stress on the other end of the spectrum may not typically require medicalisation. But it does not mean the latter should be taken lightly, he noted. 

As mental health issues exist on a spectrum, there is a need for “a broad suite of solutions”. 

While the government will hire more psychiatrists and build more capacity at IMH, this solution is not the be-all and end-all. 

“We also need to strengthen capabilities across our entire spectrum of care, including at our polyclinics and GPs, and also across other settings like schools, workplaces, and in the community, so that more timely support can be rendered to those in need,” said Mr Wong. 

To that end, the government has specific targets that it aims to achieve by 2030 or earlier. 

First, it will increase capacity at IMH and the redeveloped Alexandra Hospital for those who need specialist care. Capacity at long-term care facilities will also be increased to provide “step-down care” for those who need it.

Second, it will increase the number of public sector psychiatrists and psychologists by about 30 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.

Third, it will introduce mental health services to all polyclinics and 900 more GP clinics, bringing such services closer to the community. 

Fourth, it will equip and train 28,000 more frontline personnel and volunteers who serve at various community and social service touchpoints. This will help them “identify people struggling with mental health and offer early assistance”. 

The government will also “redouble” existing efforts, added Mr Wong. 

The Education Ministry is on track to achieving its target of deploying more than 1,000 teacher-counsellors across schools. This is in addition to the basic counselling skills that all teachers will be trained in, as well as the one to two counsellors that every school will have to support students with “more challenging social and emotional needs”. 

Parents will also be provided with resources to help them support their children’s mental health and well-being needs. 

There will also be more peer support networks established in the community, such as in schools, institutes of higher learning (IHLs), workplaces and among national servicemen. Such networks will have “trained peer leaders” who can provide a “first line of response” to friends and colleagues who need help. 

INSURANCE COVERAGE 

Addressing concerns raised by MPs on Tuesday about better insurance coverage for mental health conditions, Mr Wong pointed out that life insurers in Singapore have offered coverage to people with mental health conditions.

“But the underwriting of such persons can be a complex matter, as our own data is limited, and insurers here typically reference the underwriting guidelines of global life reinsurers,” he said. 

The government will nonetheless review how the coverage can be improved and ensure that financial institutions deal fairly with all their customers, including those with mental health conditions, he added.

Mr Wong stressed that the government is making mental health and well-being a “key priority” in the national agenda and called on Singaporeans who are passionate about the issue to join in this national movement. 

“We have lots to do and a full agenda ahead of us. The government has set out clear plans and deliverables. But the issues are complex and we do not have all the answers,” he said. 

“We want everyone on board, so that we can learn together, and continue to fine-tune our strategies based on your feedback and ideas, and our shared experiences and insights.”



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