4th Sep 2020
Miss Cheng Li Hui,
MP for Tampines GRC
Question No. 50
To ask the Minister for Health in light of reports that Singaporeans are more stressed working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic (a) whether there is an increase in mental health cases over the last few months; (b) what current measures are in place to help affected Singaporeans; and (c) whether further measures are needed as work-from-home arrangements continue amidst the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about shifts in the way we work and interact with others, with more Singaporeans working from home during the pandemic.
In the period of April to July 2020, there was a decrease of 36 percent in the number of attendances at the Specialist Outpatient Clinic and a decrease of 8 percent in Emergency Department visits at the Institute of Mental Health, as compared to the same period last year, in part due to the Circuit Breaker (CB) measures.
However, for the same period, there was an increase of 60 percent in the number of calls to the IMH Mental Health Helpline as compared to last year. Similarly, the number of community referrals for mental health issues to the Agency for Integrated Care’s (AIC) Care-in-Mind online platform more than doubled during this period with demand returning to normal levels in July 2020 post CB. In summary, with the exception of IMH Mental Health Helpline, the utilization of mental healthcare services has returned to the level seen prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To further support the mental health needs of Singaporeans during the pandemic, the National CARE Hotline was launched in April 2020 to provide support to those facing mental health concerns such as anxiety and adjustment issues related to COVID-19. As of 20 August 2020, the hotline has handled approximately 27,900 calls. About 11,800 of these calls were directed to trained volunteers to provide psychological first aid, while the remaining calls which are specific to other needs such as finance and employment issues were directed to the appropriate hotlines. Individuals who needed more targeted and continued support were referred to help services such as counselling centres or specialised helplines. The number of calls has since decreased by about 42 percent post CB.
To provide information and self-help tools to improve mental well-being, Temasek Foundation, AIC, and the Ministry of Health Office for Healthcare Transformation have developed online mental health platforms such as the “My Mental Health” Microsite (www.stayprepared.sg/mymentalhealth/), and Mindline.sg. Users will also be able to find out more on the support services that are available to them through these platforms.
To address the challenges of working from home, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has issued an inter-agency Advisory in April this year to advise employers and workers on practical steps to take and to tap on counselling resources to support one’s mental well-being during the COVID-19 period. Recommendations for employers include regular checking in with staff, provide flexible work schedules for parents of young children; and provide employees with access to external counselling service. Employees are also encouraged to maintain a circle of social support; and stay active and healthy during this period.
The Ministry of Health will continue to work with its partner agencies to monitor the trends of utilization of support services and provide timely intervention if necessary.