Finding suitable treatment requires time and effort from an individual and it can be an overwhelming experience.
Anthea Ong, a former Nominated Member of Parliament who advocated for the prioritisation of mental health in the budget 2020 debate suggested that improving the quantity and quality of information about mental health resources may encourage a young person to take the first step to seek help.
She added that while the National Council of Social Service provides a list of available mental health resources online, there should be a “community navigator” that goes beyond “just information”.
“There's no guidance on where to go, the cost fees - at least list down some of the possible journeys or experiences and then map that.
“It’s not a site that helps you to navigate the services available,” she explained.
Lack of clear information an overwhelming experience for mental health sufferers
For those like Aisha*, who engages in self-harm and suspects she has depression, the plethora of options that a Google search presents her has posed a hindrance.
“I remember Googling ‘Singapore counselling session’ and ‘affordable counselling’... but there isn’t a site that narrows down your options for you or tells you what kind of treatment is appropriate,” the 23-year-old patient service associate at a local hospital said. She has yet to see a professional.
“I do want to spend some time looking at the services ... but that’s just something I’m not ready for at this point of time - not when your mind is already in a mess.”
As much as there are many avenues of care out there, there may not be enough education on selecting an appropriate one, said Dr Tracie Lazaroo, a clinical psychologist from Inner Light Psychological Services and LP Clinic.
“Finding the appropriate mental health service can seem like an overwhelming experience.”
Psychiatrist or psychologist?
Kevin* for example, did not know the difference between a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who can diagnose mental disorders and prescribe medication, and a psychologist - someone who specialises in modes of therapy.
While he was hoping to speak to a therapist about his problems, he unknowingly set an appointment with a psychiatrist at a private hospital instead, who prescribed him medication like Lexapro and Xanax.
“I didn't know where to start and where to search … (the private hospital) came out with the first few searches of Google,” he said.
“I was quite taken aback because it was more of a clinical setting (with the psychiatrist) and it was not very nice. I didn’t feel very comfortable.”
Mr Jackie Tay, the executive director of PSALT Care, a registered charity and mental health recovery centre, said that the awareness of the availability of health and resources has not increased significantly over the last five years, neither has the “ease of search”.
“For example, we know that when there’s a fire, we call 995. When you need the police, you call 999. But when you've got a mental health problem, who do you call?”
Mental health hotline exist but not obvious enough
Since September 2020, there is a National Care Hotline (1800-202-6868) operating from 8am to 12am daily. The hotline is manned by more than 300 psychologists, counsellors, social workers, psychiatrists and public officers.
According to MOH, there are consolidated sites that list mental health resources and “function as navigators”, such as the My Mental Health microsite that was launched this year by Temasek Foundation, in collaboration with the AIC.
“It is a resource hub that provides online mental health resources such as mental health-related articles, online forums and information on support groups to support one’s mental health during the COVID-19 period,” it added.
Another website with various resources on mental health was also launched to help users assess their wellbeing and match them with forms of assistance if needed.
The website, called mindline.sg, consolidates access to many resources and tools to help people "access and navigate care, with an emphasis on stress and coping”.
While there are an abundance of mental health resources, it may not necessarily be a good thing. Mental health sufferers might feel there is an information overload.
The issue isn't about the number of resources available but the ease of assessibility to such a resource.
Perhaps a simple 3-digit emergency hotline for mental health would provide much better outcome for those planning to seek help.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.