The issue of mental health has risen to the forefront of the Singaporean youth consciousness in recent years, and for good reason; mental health is just as essential to our quality of life as physical health is. So, the question more and more of us are asking is: who can help me manage my mental health, and how can I find them?
Many who turn to the internet for the answer give up searching. The 2016 Singapore Mental Health Study found that while one in seven Singaporeans has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime, more than three in four did not seek any professional help. And who can blame them? The process of seeking help for mental health in a Singaporean context is still shrouded in misconceptions and mystery.
So, if you’ve acknowledged that you need some assistance managing your own mental health, the next step is to get help. But getting help means… What, exactly?
Mental Health Professionals
Before we jump into what mental health treatments are available, we should discuss who provides these treatments. In this article, the term ‘therapist’ is used as an umbrella term for any mental health professional, but does not denote any specific qualifications. There are three types of professionals that you will encounter in the field: psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors.
Psychologists: The practice of psychology in Singapore is not regulated by the Government, meaning anyone can call themselves a psychologist and practice. However, practising psychologists usually choose to register themselves with the Singapore Psychological Society. Doing so indicates that they have at least a Master’s degree in applied psychology, which requires a supervised practicum, supervised training in psychological assessments, and practical training in interventions or counselling. This means they will have experience handling psychological assessments and counselling. Psychologists can diagnose but not prescribe medication.
Psychiatrists: Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists have a medical degree and a Master’s degree in the psychiatry specialisation. They are qualified to diagnose and prescribe medication if needed.
Counsellors: Counsellors must be registered with the Singapore Association for Counselling to practice in Singapore. This means they have a minimum of a postgraduate diploma from a recognised course and have 600 postgraduate clinical hours. However, they can only provide counselling and are unable to diagnose or prescribe medication.
These professionals are able to provide a variety of mental health assistance. Now, we will address three main approaches to psychological assistance — namely talk therapy, medication and counselling — so you can make an informed decision on what works best for yourself.
Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, involves discussing personal or emotional issues with a mental health practitioner.
The most common form of talk therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy, where you speak with a psychologist who helps identify harmful or ineffective thought patterns and trace them to their source. They will talk you through replacing your thought patterns with helpful and effective patterns. This can help treat disorders such as depression, anxiety, trauma-related disorders and eating disorders.
Another is interpersonal therapy, a short-term form of treatment. It can help to address unresolved grief over past events, issues in social roles, and conflicts in relationships with others. Your therapist will help you learn healthy methods to communicate with others and express your own emotions and needs. This form of therapy is most often used to treat depression.
Counselling is more short-term than talk therapy, and focuses more on problem-solving and learning helpful techniques. The counsellor will help assess your situation and identify problems you might be facing, whereas talk therapy focuses more on the cause and effect of your mental state. Counsellors will also help you to plan and implement assistance programmes such as crisis intervention, and if needed, refer you to relevant agencies.
Medication manages the more severe symptoms of mental illnesses and improves your quality of life. There are six main types of mental health medication: antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers, depressants, anxiolytics and stimulants. It is sometimes prescribed alongside talk therapy to increase the effectiveness of treatment. However, as with all medication, it can be dangerous to self-prescribe as you may experience unwanted side effects. To find out if you need medication, you can get a referral from a polyclinic to see a psychiatrist, who will discuss your symptoms and decide if you are fit for medication.
Finding the right fit
It’s important to keep in mind that you know yourself best — if your treatment isn’t helping you, consider changing to a different professional, organisation or service. It may be tiring, but will be worth it once you see your mental health improves.
Some questions you can ask yourself to check if your treatment suits you:
- Do I see how this treatment is helping me?
- Are there any changes in my symptoms? (E.g. less severe episodes, more time lapsed between episodes, improvement in mental and emotional state)
- How is this treatment teaching me to cope with and manage my mental health?
Do you need help?
It’s easy to compare our mental health situation to others and feel ashamed, fearful or guilty that we need help. But mental health is a spectrum, and you know yourself best. So if you need a helping hand to manage it, do not feel ashamed because the sooner you start your mental health journey, the sooner you will reap the benefits of its improvement!
So, do you need help? If your answer is yes, below is a list of resources that could help you get started:
1. Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) Insight Centre
The SAMH offers counselling for youths facing academic or household issues.
Hotline: 1800 283 7019
Address: 69 Lor 4 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310069
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 9am – 6pm
Telephone: 6255 3222
2. Calvary Community Care
Calvary Community Care provides counselling for youth aged 13-25.
Fees: $50 per session | $5 per session for clients who require financial assistance
Address: 147 Potong Pasir, Avenue 1, Singapore 350147
Opening hours: Mon – Wed (online) 9am – 6pm | Thus 9am – 8pm | Fri 9am – 6pm
Telephone: 6281 1866
3. Singapore Counselling Centre
Singapore Counselling Centre offers
Fees: From $136/session for adults, from $120/session for youths
Address: 51 Cuppage Road, #03-03, Singapore 229469
Opening hours: Mon Fri 9am – 7pm | Sat 9am – 5pm
Telephone: 6339 5411
4. AWARE Counselling (Women)
AWARE offers remote counselling for women facing crises, with a specialised track for sexual assault victims.
Fees: 1% of your monthly salary per session | $20 per session for those who are not working
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 10pm – 6pm
Telephone: 1800 777 5555
Note: All polytechnics, along with NUS, NTU, SMU, SIT, SUTD, SIM and SUSS, offer free counselling services for their students.