DPM Wong addresses how govt will help S'poreans with mental health

He calls on all Singaporeans to join him in the national movement to improve everyone's mental health.

Hannah Martens | February 07, 2024, 04:27 PM



During the parliamentary debate on the motion to call for a nationwide effort to enhance mental health for Singaporeans, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong highlighted that mental health has grown in importance worldwide, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It was always in the shadows. It's not something we talked about publicly," said DPM Wong, adding that attitudes towards mental health have recently shifted for the better, and people are now more informed and more willing to talk about it openly.

For Singapore, DPM Wong said the National Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy was launched in October 2023, which sets out concrete plans to plug existing gaps and strengthen Singapore's mental health ecosystem.

"We will now translate these plans into action," he said. "Our plans are not static. We will continue to evolve and update them."

"So let there be no doubt the government is making mental health and well-being a key priority in our national agenda."

Improving mental health is not just about having more psychiatrists

DPM Wong said that improving mental health "is not just about hiring more psychiatrists are building more capacity".

He explained that mental health issues lie on a spectrum, meaning that a "broad suite of solutions are needed".

For example, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia might require medical treatment, but other mental well-being issues, like anxiety and stress, which should not be taken lightly either, may not require medicalisation.

Hence, DPM Wong said that the government will strengthen capabilities across the "entire spectrum of care", including at our polyclinics, GPs and across other settings like schools, workplaces and the community, to provide more timely support to those in need.

Youths and mental health

Other than expanding the capacity for mental health services in general, DPM Wong said that improving the mental health of young people is a key consideration of the national strategy.

"It has never been easy to be a teenager. Teenage angst has always been part of the growing up process," DPM Wong said.

"But something has changed around the world since around the early 2010s — because the current generation of young people are expressing more concerns about their mental health than previous cohorts."

DPM Wong said that while youth mental health conditions in Singapore are better than in other countries: "It is nevertheless a worrying trend, and we are taking it seriously."

He said that the government are linking up with researchers from around the world to try and understand the root causes behind the recent surge in youth mental health issues.

DPM Wong pointed out that some researchers attribute "heavy social media usage" as a major cause — constant pressure to present a positive image online, fear of missing out on algorithms, cyberbullying, sleep deprivation, less physical exercise, less real-life interactions, etc.

However, some researchers think that it's not just about "online safeguards" but that adults need to "loosen up in the real world" and give the children "more space for free play and autonomy".

"The bottom line is that more work will need to be done to better understand what has changed globally in recent years," he said

@mothershipsg "We are taking it seriously," DPM Lawrence Wong said. #tiktoksg #parliamentsg #singapore #mentalhealth #mentalhealthmatters #sg #sgnews ♬ original sound - Mothership

Focus on preventive care & destigmatising mental health

DPM Wong said that there will be a greater focus on preventive care so everyone can take proactive steps and be in charge of their own mental health.

In schools, the government wants children to develop good cyber habits and learn to use the internet and social media safely and responsibly.

"To be clear, our approach is not to remove all stress. That is not going to help our children. Instead, we want our children to learn to deal with stress at age-appropriate levels.

We want them to develop self-belief and resilience and grow up with the confidence to tackle challenges, stresses and demands that they will surely encounter later in life."

DPM Wong added that the government will continue integrating mental well-being into HealthierSG and other preventive health programs.

He reiterated that the government is fully committed to doing more to improve mental health and well-being. DPM Wong said that for all the plans to work, Singapore needs to change its attitudes and mindset towards mental health.

"We need to do more to destigmatise mental health conditions so that people do not hesitate to seek help."

In addition, DPM Wong called for a change in mindset regarding "success" in life, warning against being "unwittingly drawn into a rat race of hyper-competition and endless comparisons with one another just to get ahead of others. "

Key initiatives to achieve by 2030

DPM Wong announced some key mental health initiatives the government set to achieve by 2030 or earlier.

  • Increase the capacity of IMH and the redeveloped Alexandra Hospital for those who require specialist care.
  • Increase the capacity of long-term care facilities.
  • Increase the number of public sector psychiatrists and psychologists by 30 and 40 per cent, respectively.
  • Equipping and training an additional 28,000 frontline personnel and volunteers
  • Introducing mental health services at all polyclinics and 900 more GP clinics.

DPM Wong also said the Ministry of Education (MOE) is on track to achieve its target of deploying more than 1000 teacher counsellors across the school — on top of the basic counselling skills all teachers will be trained in.

Parents will also be provided resources to support their children's mental health and well-being.

More peer support networks will be established in places in the community like schools, institutions of higher learning, workplaces and among national servicemen.

"These networks will have trained peer leaders who can spread the message on the importance of mental health and provide a first line of response to their friends or colleagues who need help," DPM Wong explained.

With these moves, the aim is to reduce waiting times and make mental health services more accessible, he added.

"Importantly, no one in Singapore will be denied access to appropriate care because of inability to pay."

DPM Wong calls on all Singaporeans to join him in this national movement to improve the mental health of all Singaporeans.

"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 learn together."

"Together let us build a Singapore where everyone matters, where everyone has a place and where everyone belongs.

Together, hand in hand, let us improve the mental health and well-being of all Singaporeans."

Top photo via MCI/YouTube