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Remarks by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State, at the Singapore Mental Health Conference on 5 October 2023

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Sun Xueling, All

Topic(s): Social Service Professionals, Social Service Agencies & Partners, All

Associate Professor Daniel Fung, CEO, IMH,
Mr Tay Choon Hong, CEO, HPB,
Distinguished Speakers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1              A very good evening to everyone.

             I thank the Institute of Mental Health, Agency for Integrated Care, National Council of Social Service and Health Promotion Board teams for organising the 7th Singapore Mental Health Conference this year – putting together a very strong programme line-up, which I am confident has greatly enriched all participants.

3              Professor Daniel Fung was just sharing with me that there has been incredible participation this year. 900 participants onsite, another 300 participants online. We are talking about the seventh iteration and 1200 participants and all this just goes to show how important many of us place on this very important topic of mental health.

4              Your collective insights and ideas on how we can better promote mental wellness in our community have been inspiring and thought-provoking.

5              The emphasis on mental health has never been much greater, and I’m glad that as a society, we are focusing on this. Throughout the last two days, we have explored the theme of "Co-Creating Our Mental Health Ecosystem". We have learnt about the importance of collaboration, inclusivity, and innovation in building a metal health ecosystem that is responsive to the needs of individuals and communities.

6              Associate Professor Swapna Verma shared some barriers that were stopping our youths from seeking help, such as concerns about confidentiality, lack of knowledge about mental health disorders and financial costs.

7              This led me to think about some interactions with children and youths, I have found that depending on their personal circumstances, the issues that they grapple with, their personal preferences and also access to resources, they have different ways of reaching out and have different needs that require responding to.

8              For instance, a younger person may have difficulty verbalising their mental health challenges, or is unable to make sense of the inner turmoil they face. As opposed to talk therapy, they may need different outlets to express themselves. We should ask ourselves, do we have such avenues for them to do so? For example, would these younger individuals respond better to play therapy, music, art or dance therapy? And if so, where can they go to, to seek such different forms of therapy?

9              For other groups of youths, do they feel marginalised or that there is a lack of safe space for them to be able to express themselves? Do we then have relevant support groups in the community for them so they feel they are heard and there is room for peer support?

10         And if peer support is important to them, do we have easily accessible peer support training so that we can build up a group of peer supporters as fast as possible to support our mental health needs?

11         To the concerns that Associate Professor Swapna Verma had shared, for these youths who are concerned about confidentiality, are there authoritative, easy to access online resources, helplines or chat bots that go some way in addressing their concerns about confidentiality and getting access to resources at a manageable cost?

12         As we speak, the interagency taskforce on mental health and well-being, for which I am a member of, is doing a press conference and launching our nationwide mental health and well-being strategy.

13         They will touch on ensuring different tiers of support and channels for those with mental health and well-being issues. They will also touch on how schools, parents and community can all play a role to create a supportive eco-system. 

14         Throughout the Singapore Mental Health conference, we have learned about the importance of collaboration, inclusivity, and innovation in building a mental health ecosystem that is responsive to the needs of individuals and communities.

15         The promotion of mental well-being requires the collaboration of a diverse range of professionals, including psychologists, counsellors, educators, educational therapists and social workers from both the public and private sector.

16         There has been many partnerships and collaborations, but the scale of the problems requires us to work even more closely together and at a higher frequency.

17         How do we translate research and clinical findings from our professionals into school programmes and community programmes so that interventions on the ground target problem areas and deliver the right solutions to the right demographics?  

18         How do we design, monitor and track programmes so that there is effective use of government funds and efficient use of manpower and technology to deliver the outcomes that we want?

19         The Government will do more by working with community partners to better support those who need help.

20         As an example, the agencies under the Beyond The Label Collective, led by NCSS and TOUCH Community Services, are working in partnership with 29 stakeholders to raise awareness of stigma and advocate for greater support for persons with mental health conditions. I understand that these 29 stakeholders are also educating and equipping the public with peer support skills and advocating the implementation of workplace adjustments to support persons with mental health conditions.

21         By involving different stakeholders in the development and implementation of mental health initiatives, we are fostering a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for mental health in Singapore. This will make a difference as we need a whole of society commitment to mental health and wellbeing. 

22         Last but not least, I hope that even as we focus on the channels and mechanisms in which we help our fellow citizens on mental health issues, that we also take a step back and ask ourselves what we can do fundamentally and actually, what youths may fundamentally need from all of us so that they are able to surmount and mange mental health issues when they arise. This is where I would like to reach out to everyone and say that beyond our capabilities as social workers, as psychologist, as therapist, there is also another very important function you have to play, and that is collectively, we need to be able to spark confidence and hope in our young so that despite the triggers that bring on mental health challenges, that they know they have the ability to overcome or manage these challenges and that our society is a kind and inclusive one who will partner them on this journey.

23         How do we work together so that our youths see meaning and purpose in what they do – at school, at work, in the community? How do we support them so they have strong relationships with their family and their friends? How do we work with schools and community partners to help them build a strong sense of self and self-confidence which will enable them to protect themselves against any negativity they may face which may emanate from use of social media?

24         Apart from being the first responders and the frontline professionals helping our youths with mental health and well-being issues, I also hope we can all be an agent of confidence, kindness and inclusivity to spark confidence and hope in our youths. It will be through our collective words, deeds and actions which will create a healthy environment where our youths can manage mental health issues and engender a sense of well-being and thrive.

25         Thank you.