Tuesday, 20 Oct 2020

Covid-19 provides good opportunity to improve awareness and resources on mental health: Experts

SINGAPORE – There is a positive outcome from the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health front, say experts.

It has provided many good opportunities for mental health landscape in the country to grow and improve in the future.

Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Saturday (Oct10), Institute of Mental Health senior consultant Dr Jimmy Lee and Ms Lee Yi Ping, senior case manager and team leader at IMH’s Community Health Assessment Team, spoke with The Straits Times about the impact of the coronavirus on mental health in Singapore.

A SLIDING SCALE

Noting an increase in the number of people seeking help during the pandemic, both pointed out that mental health issues tend to fall on a spectrum, ranging from stresses to more serious diagnosable disorders such as depression.

Many of those with mental health issues now were likely to fall into the former category, which involves psychological or emotional distress as a result of the current “extraordinary circumstances”, said Dr Lee.

But Ms Lee emphasised that someone not having a mental health disorder did not mean their distress was fake or should be dismissed.

She said that those feeling distressed for a prolonged period without support would gradually face a higher risk of developing a mental health disorder.

“We need to educate people that mental health issues can be common in our day to day life… it’s important to reach out and speak to someone about the distress that you’re having,” she said.

Dr Lee added that every individual had a certain capacity to cope with stress, but external help may be needed once a person’s threshold is crossed.

“For instance, if you have trouble sleeping due to stress, you can try different ways to cope with it – you could go online to look for resources… but if you find they’re not helping or things are getting worse, then you should know where you can go to seek help. Ask a peer, a counsellor, talk to a professional, or seek medical assistance,” he said.

NOT THE “STRAWBERRY GENERATION”

Although the pandemic has affected everyone in all age groups, there has been a lot of buzz about the impact on youth .

Some have had to adjust to home-based learning against the backdrop of difficult family situations, while others have had to worry about finding a job after graduation during the worst recession in Singapore since independence.

Questions have been raised online about the resilience of the younger generation to cope with the crisis.

But Ms Lee said that it was unfair to compare the younger generation to the older one.

“Every generation have their own unique challenges and stresses in life,” she said, pointing out, for instance, that the pandemic has resulted in a lot of things becoming digitised and youth may be better at adapting to this than the older generation.

In fact, she added, this has presented an opportunity for both generations to learn from each other on how to cope.

Seniors could share their own experiences thereby teaching youth that setbacks in life are common and do not necessarily mean the end, and that good things can arise from adversity.

“That may lend hope and inspiration, and serve as a reminder that there can be good that comes out of failures,” said Ms Lee.

At the same time, the older generation can learn about how the young have come up with new solutions to tackle new issues generated by the pandemic, including on staying connected using technology, or on how to support one’s peers with mental health issues.

HELPING ONE ANOTHER

Dr Lee said that there were a range of signs for people to look out for to indicate if anyone may be suffering mental issues because of the pandemic.

Helplines

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868

Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222

Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385-3714

Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

Agency for Integrated Care Hotline: 1800-650-6060

SOS Care Text service available through Facebook Messenger on the SOS official Facebook page

Their sleep may be affected, or they may develop a host of other symptoms like palpitations, gastric discomfort, headaches. Others may feel episodes of anxiety during which they may feel breathless or as if they are going to die.

Dr Lee pointed out that people did not necessarily have to experience a major crisis like getting retrenched to develop such symptoms, as different aspects of the pandemic have impacted people in different ways.

If someone notices a friend or loved one with such symptoms, they should check in on them regularly, and try to help mitigate potential stressors if possible, he said.

For instance, family members could help each other through financial difficulties, said Dr Lee. It was also important for people to know the various mental health resources available, so they can recommend them.

NOT WASTING A CRISIS

Both Dr Lee and Ms Lee referred to the many good opportunities for growth and improvements in the national mental health landscape in these tough times.

“Don’t waste a good crisis… although it’s cliche, we will pull through. But how we pull through and what we gain from this experience is very important,” said Dr Lee.

Such gains include knowing how to better relate to one’s family, how to cope with difficult times, and knowing where to find mental health resources.

The experts also pointed to online seminars and courses on mental health and self-care, as well as new resources and helplines that the Government, private organisations and people in the community created in response to the pandemic.

These include the National Care Hotline, which provides support over the phone to individuals with Covid-19 related issues, and mindline.sg, a website that consolidates access to various Covid-19 resources.

“Even after you’ve learned how to identify someone in distress and reach out, and link this person with help, post-Covid, these are skills that you can continue to use,” said Dr Lee.

Ms Lee added that the pandemic has also highlighted the importance of paying attention to one’s own mental health as well as that of everyone else around.

She said: “I’m hoping the good that can come out of this pandemic is people being more mindful about taking care of themselves, looking out for those around them, and also being more mindful with creating a safe space, not just for ourselves but people around us as well.”

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