According to a study done by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2010,12% of Singapore's population has had mental health disorders in their lifetime.
It led me to think about what I would do if a friend of mine was struggling with a mental health issue. As a Singaporean, I was disappointed to find out that I actually have no idea where someone can get help if they have a mental health issue. Searching on the internet gave me only a few options, which I felt was insufficient. So after further research online and talking to a few mental health therapists, I decided to write this article to answer the following question: How to get help in Singapore for mental health issues?
I am not only referring to people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, severe anxiety or depression. It also applies to people who are just struggling with a certain area of their life and want to understand more about how they can cope with these challenges, for example learning to manage work stress or dealing with a breakup.
7 places to get mental health support in Singapore
1 ) Private GPs/ Family doctors
Tell your GP how you are feeling and what symptoms you are experiencing (e.g. unable to sleep, eating less, not enjoying activities you used to enjoy). Some GPs are able to prescribe anti-depressants, but it is generally advised to take up talk therapy (counselling or psychotherapy) with or without medication. Therapy is targeted towards helping you learn and practice techniques to cope with your issues. GPs can refer you to a mental health specialist (psychiatrists, psychologists or counsellors) in a public hospital or private practice.
2 ) Polyclinic
GPs in polyclinics can also refer you to a mental health specialist in a public hospital. Some polyclinics offer psychology services (refer to this page for more info) and can prescribe medication for mental health conditions.
Public hospitals like SGH, CGH, TTSH, KKH, and KTPH have a psychology department that can dispense drugs as well as offer talk therapy. Patients can either be a private patient or a subsidized patient. The difference is that private patients are able to choose the specialist who treats them, and are able to get an appointment quicker. To be a subsidized patient, you must be referred to the hospital by a GP or a polyclinic.
Of course, there is also IMH that caters specifically to mental health. IMH has a 24 hours emergency department that caters to mental health issues. It is important to note that it make take several weeks if not months for you to get an appointment with a mental health professional in a hospital.
4) Family Service Centres (FSC)
There are 47 FSCs located around HDB estates. These centres are staffed by social service professionals and their aim is to support families and individuals in need. Some of the social service professionals are able to provide counselling assistance to people with mental health issues. FSC services are generally free, but they are targeted towards helping people deal with relationship related issues, and you might not get to talk to a professional counsellor or psychotherapist. No medication can be prescribed at FSCs.
There are various helplines that you can call to seek help. The most widely used ones include the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) for suicide prevention and IMH emergency helpline. These helplines are to help you overcome an emergency situation (e.g. Strong intention to hurt yourself or others), and will usually guide you to approach the emergency centre at IMH. Other helplines are available from various different groups and mental health practices (see here for a list of helplines), but they are usually available during work hours and their intent is to help you understand what kind of help you need to get. Usually, people will be advised to seek help from friends/ family, a psychiatrist, counsellor or psychologist. Sometimes certain coping techniques are also shared via these helplines.
6) Private practices
There are many private mental health practices in Singapore. These are professional psychiatrists, counsellors, and psychologists who have chosen to start their own practices instead of joining a hospital. They typically have years of training and experience in public hospitals and even international work. You can get appointments much faster than going through the public health system when you approach these practitioners. A directory like RingMD can help you find a suitable private practitioner and get you in touch with them quickly.
7) Mental health associations and communities
These are not for profit organizations that are targeted at helping people cope with specific mental health issues. They usually have helplines and can provide some counselling services, but they typically point you towards places where you can seek help.
With so much choice, where should you seek help from?
Many people start off by visiting a GP because they do not know that they are facing a mental health/psychological issue. There’s nothing wrong with consulting a GP first about your mental health issue, but it is important to note that many GPs are not specially trained to help people with psychological issues, which means that they will have to refer you to a specialist. If you are referred to a public hospital, it would take weeks, if not months before you get an appointment with a specialist.
Given the nature of psychological issues, sometimes people might not be able to wait that long. If you do not wish to wait, it might be worth reaching out to private practitioners. Using a directory like RingMD, you can message multiple private providers at once and book an appointment within the same week (instantly if you're looking to talk to a doctor). For urgent cases involving intent to hurt yourself or others, the best avenue for help would be the emergency helpline from SOS or IMH, or even just visiting the IMH emergency department directly.
Mental health services can be expensive, but there are options to make the services more affordable
If fees are an issue for you, you might want to consider accepting the long wait times as a subsidised patient in a public hospital while simultaneously reaching out to an FSC near you. If you are a student, your school might have counsellors who can help you. In this situation, you might not get the best provider (in terms of experience and knowledge) to help you with working out your issues, but it will definitely be better than trying to figure things out on your own. Alternatively, you can try approaching private practitioners who mention that they offer discounted rates for people with financial difficulties on their profiles. This is usually subjected to their availability and they might request for proof of your financial status.
Some people are concerned about going to a public hospital because they are afraid of having a mental health issue in their health records, or they do not want people to know that they are visiting a mental health specialist. In this situation, one might want to consider having therapy online. This means that you will speak to a professional counsellor or psychotherapist via video or audio calls, allowing you to get therapy from an expert at whichever location you feel most secure. RingMD is ideal in this scenario because it allows you to message, book, and perform video/ audio calls to a therapist on one platform. Do note that in most countries you will not be able to get medication through video consultations, and this channel of therapy is not ideal for emergency cases.
There are various avenues of support for mental health issues in Singapore.
While the quality of the public mental health system is great, the speed of service can be lacking in many situations (note that this is a worldwide problem, not just in Singapore). Hence in order for people to get excellent help in the shortest amount of time, reaching out to private practitioners can be the best option available. Through my research and conversations with therapists, I realized that finding a private practitioner in Singapore can be a difficult task. RingMD can help you navigate through this process easily.
Dr Alice Lee (Ph.D.), click on her profile below, is a wonderful example of the type of well-trained experts you can find on RingMD. A professionally trained counsellor, Dr. Lee is certified in Anger Management Treatment Training and is a member of the International Association of Trauma Professionals (IATP). She was a full-time secondary school counsellor, lectures and trains undergraduate teachers in educational, counselling and guidance programs with the Institute of Teachers Education in Penang. She is also a lecturer for the Masters of Professional Counselling Program at Monash University, Malaysia. She has conducted various training workshops and talks related to educational, personal development, anger management, stress management, parenting teens, time management, effective learning strategies, and premarital issues.
To end this post, I would like to offer a final thought for people who are facing challenges with getting help: Regardless of the issues you are facing and the doubts you have about therapy, it wouldn’t hurt for you to message a provider and ask them how they can help you. A beautiful life begins with discovery!
We're also focusing on increasing access to primary care. Speak with a doctor online on RingMD. Why leave home to find a doctor if you don't have to? Avoid sick people in busy waiting rooms and skip the traffic jam. Can you have a doctor appointment online? Yes, consult a doctor online, right now! When appropriate, the doctor is able to provide you with a signed Medical Certificate (MC) if you need one for work or school reasons.
If you're a doctor or wellness expert considering offering virtual care services, here are some arguments to consider.