The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought great stressors to Singaporeans. MSF and NCSS are part of the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being (ITFMHW), which was set up in July 2021, and are committed to enhancing support for mental health and well-being in the community, strengthening service integration, and increasing support for persons with mental health conditions (PMHCs). Through supporting the Youth Mental Well-being Network (YMWBN), expanding the Beyond the Label (BTL) movement, and other ongoing efforts, MSF and NCSS will continue to work closely with social service agencies and community partners to raise awareness around mental health and well-being, and increase access to support and resources in the community.
Providing Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic
2 To provide emotional and psychological first aid to those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, MSF and MOH set up the National CARE Hotline (NCH) at the start of the circuit breaker. The Hotline is currently manned by social service professionals and volunteers from Viriya Community Services who provide psychological first aid to callers, and Agape customer service officers who triage the calls. Callers who require further psychological help or other assistance are referred to public healthcare institutions or community service providers for follow-up.
3 The NCH has provided support to many in our community during the pandemic. The NCH has managed over 60,000 calls since it commenced operations in April 2020. The top concerns commonly reported through the Hotline included the need for emotional support, mental health, and family issues. In the past year, about 500 calls per month required emotional support, and 17% of such calls were related to mental health.
4 The total call volume managed by the NCH has declined over time. While there were occasional spikes in call volume coinciding with events such as the announcement of new COVID-19 measures on Home Recovery, the number of calls managed by the hotline has decreased from a monthly average of 2,000 calls in 2021, to 1,700 per month in the last three months.
Strengthening Support and Service Delivery through Whole-of-society Partnerships
5 social service agencies and community partners play a key role in providing community-based services and support to individuals who face mental health challenges or who are in distress. NCSS increased the funding for three counselling programmes, SYM Academy, Counselling and Care Centre and O’Joy Care Services in FY20 and FY21 to meet the increased demand for counselling services. NCSS is also working with sector partners to strengthen the capability of counselling services to support those with mental health conditions, as part of the community mental health ecosystem. Mental health resources are also made more accessible via Belle, the BTL helpbot.
6 The Government also recognises that issues surrounding mental health and well-being are often cross-cutting and require multi-stakeholder collaboration. Under the auspices of the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being (ITFMHW) chaired by Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Janil Puthucheary, MOH, MSF, other agencies across multiple sectors, and partners from the private and people sectors have been working together on initiatives to enhance the mental health and well-being of the population.
7 The Taskforce is working on initiatives to enhance the current landscape of mental health and well-being services, to ensure that these services are more coordinated and accessible. This is so that individuals can navigate the ecosystem of services more easily, and receive the care and support they need more promptly. The Taskforce will consult the public on some preliminary ideas in the coming months.
Supporting Youth Mental Well-being, beginning with the family at home
8 Further upstream, resilience and mental well-being are important aspects of a youth’s holistic development. Our youths face pressure on many fronts that may impact their mental well-being, and the pandemic has compounded the challenges that they are facing today. As we build up our ecosystem of mental health services, it is equally crucial to enhance support from within the home and family. A supportive home environment and nurturing family relationships are key to strengthening youth mental well-being, and the ITFMHW is therefore developing initiatives to enhance family support.
9 As part of the ITFMHW, MSF works closely with MOE to engage parents and youths to build supportive family relationships and enhance family resilience. The Taskforce will work with parents and youths to co-create tips and practical strategies for parents to better understand and support their children’s mental well-being. Parents will also be provided with accessible resources to seek help if they are concerned about their children’s mental health.
10 MSF, together with MOE and MOH, has also been supporting the Youth Mental Well-being Network (YMWBN). The Network has witnessed the development and implementation of more than 20 ground-up projects to improve youth mental well-being since February 2020. The projects include efforts to enhance youths’ emotional resilience, and to strengthen support within the family, workplace and community. One such project was “Let’s Talk Positivity”, a ground-up online community providing a safe space to have positive conversations around mental well-being. Another project, which aimed to help parents and children cope better with PSLE stress, conducted workshops to equip parents with skills to support their children's mental well-being and to strengthen parent-child communication and relationship. These initiatives promote greater awareness and support for youth mental well-being, and provide more avenues for youths to seek help. MSF and the other Government agencies will continue to support the respective YMWBN project teams.
Encouraging Help-Seeking Behaviour by Expanding the Beyond the Label Movement
11 Since 2018, NCSS has been working with partners to address the issue of stigma through the Beyond the Label (BTL) movement. The movement amplifies anti-stigma messages and provides various platforms to encourage help-seeking, especially among youths. Over the past 2 years, BTL has worked with the Youth Alliance – a network that includes Institutes of Higher Learning, the Health Promotion Board (HPB), and social service agencies that provide mental health services to youths – to conceptualise and create four e-Escape room game episodes that cover four mental health conditions (i.e. mood disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia and eating disorders) to enhance mental health literacy and promote help-seeking behaviour.
12 In the coming year, the refreshed BTL movement, termed BTL 2.0, will expand its partnerships with SSAs to build a stronger movement and momentum. On top of public education, BTL 2.0 will focus on empowering persons with mental health conditions to seek help and share their experiences and enabling youths and caregivers to support their peers and loved ones with mental health conditions. More details will be shared in the coming months.
13 MSF and NCSS will continue to work closely with Government agencies and community partners to support the mental health and well-being of individuals and families. We encourage everyone to continue looking out for one another, and welcome partners and individuals to join us in playing a part to improve and support mental health and well-being within our families, workplaces, and community. Those who require additional assistance may reach out to our community mental health services, hotlines and online platforms, such as the National CARE Hotline, Samaritans of Singapore, TOUCHline, Mindline.sg, or the Beyond the Label helpbot. Hotline numbers and information on these resources can be found on NCSS's Mental Health Resource Directory, the YMWBN REACH Microsite, and the Health Promotion Board’s MindSG portal.
- National CARE Hotline – 1800 202 6868
- Samaritans of Singapore Hotline – 1800 221 4444
- TOUCHline (Counselling) – 1800 377 2252
- BELLE, Beyond the Label helpbot
- NCSS's Mental Health Resource Directory
- YMWBN REACH Microsite
1In an in-depth study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to assess the Singapore population’s psychological responses and mental well-being during the pandemic, about 13% of the surveyed population reported experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety in the period from May 2020 to June 2021.
Annex A Questions and Answers
1) What is the focus of the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being (ITFMHW)?
The Taskforce was set up to strengthen the oversight and coordination of mental health and well-being efforts across the whole-of-society. It comprises members from over 30 agencies within the public, private and people sectors. There are four tracks under the ITFMHW
i) Youth and Family Track To enhance the mental well-being of youths, promote family resilience and strengthen family support for youth mental health and well-being.
ii) Service Integration Track To achieve integrated and seamless delivery of affordable and quality mental health services across health and social sectors.
iii) Employment Support Track To improve employability and employment of persons with mental health conditions, strengthen support for employees’ mental health needs in the workplace, and better support employers in creating safe and inclusive workplaces for persons with mental health conditions.
iv) Partnership, Engagement and Communications Track To galvanise a whole-of-society effort to improve population mental health literacy, awareness and create an inclusive society for greater acceptance of persons with mental health conditions.
2) What are the forms of support available for persons who have mental health concerns?
National CARE Hotline (NCH)
At the start of the circuit breaker, MSF and the Ministry of Health (MOH) set up a dedicated National CARE Hotline (NCH), to provide emotional and psychological first aid to those who have been affected by COVID-19. The hotline has managed over 60,000 calls since it commenced operations in April 2020. The hotline is currently manned by social service professionals, volunteers from Viriya Community Services and Agape customer service officers. NCH is a close partnership between the public service, community agencies and the private sector.
Callers who require further psychological help are referred to public healthcare institutions or community service providers for follow-up, where necessary.
Community Psychology Hub (CPH) Online Counselling
Clients who face marital, divorce and parenting stresses may access a counselling service through the live text chat and email provided in this online platform. The online counselling is operated by a team of counsellors and psychologists.
Clients can choose to remain anonymous over this platform. If clients require more specialised support, counsellors will help to refer them to the relevant services and resources.
Mental Health Services in the Community
MOH and AIC have worked with the community service providers and public healthcare institutions to develop community mental health services such as the community outreach teams, community intervention teams, mental health and/or dementia services in polyclinics, and trained General Practitioner (GP) partners to diagnose and support persons with mental health conditions.
Social Service Agencies (SSAs) also play a key role in the provision of community-based services and support to individuals who face mental health challenges or who are in distress. Some of these examples include
- Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) provides support to individuals facing crises, thinking about or are affected by suicide.
- Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS) and Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) reaches out to employers to promote inclusive hiring practices, enhance the employability of PMHCs via training and re-integrate them into workplaces.
- Resilience Collective and Club Heal empower our PMHCs by co-creating and co-deliver their services and have their peer support specialists provide peer support to others who are on their recovery journey.
- Agencies such as Silver Ribbon and TOUCH Community Services provide helpline and counselling services.
Counselling programmes funded by NCSS are accessible to all, as they are either free-of-charge or subsidised. Where fees are charged, clients are charged according to their income levels.
Public hospitals in Singapore provide both inpatient and outpatient specialised services in the management of patients with psychological and psychiatric disorders.
Severe cases that require more intensive treatment could be referred to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
The mindline.sg is an initiative rolled out by the Ministry of Health Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT) in collaboration with MSF, NCSS and IMH. It is an interactive website which aims to be a one-stop repository of resources to improve mental well-being. It includes a validated wellbeing self-assessment tool for users to conduct a self-assessment of their stress level; users will be guided along appropriate pathways of intervention and support based on the assessment outcomes.
HPB rolled out MindSG, a one-stop online portal for national mental health and well-being resources, to provide Singaporeans with information on mental health and well-being. The pilot version which was rolled out in late November 2021, targeted adults and focused on information pertaining to self-care and mental well-being topics on sleeping well and managing emotions and stress. It will be enhanced progressively to introduce more topics and features for the public. MindSG was developed in collaboration with whole-of-government (WOG) partners and pulls together content curated by mental health experts, such as doctors and psychologists, offering Singaporeans credible, reliable and convenient access to content and resources that can support them in looking after their own mental well-being as well as those of family and friends around them.
3) What type of projects are supported under the Youth Mental Well-being Network (YMWBN)?
The Network members have developed and implemented over 20 ground-up projects and initiatives to enhance youth mental well-being, within the following eight areas of focus
a. Enhancing knowledge of mental health
b. Youth mental well-being in the workplace
c. Supporting youths at-risk
d. Building emotional resilience in our youths
e. Promoting and equipping youths with help-seeking behaviour
f. Strengthening peer support
g. Reducing stigmatisation regarding mental health
h. Empowering and leveraging families
4) Many of the mental health and well-being efforts seem to target the youth. Are there plans to look into the mental well-being of other age demographics beyond youth?
There are existing services in place to support the mental well-being of adults and seniors. Together with AIC, MOH has been rolling out mental health services in the community and primary care to support persons with mental health needs beyond youth. These services include the community outreach teams and community intervention teams, as well as mental health clinics in polyclinics and GPs trained in mental health.
In addition, the YMWBN will be transiting to a national Well-Being Network, comprising whole-of-society partnerships to support the mental well-being for all in Singapore regardless of age.
We will continue to build on existing efforts and expand on these initiatives and services / programmes.