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About 13 per cent of over 1,000 participants in a study here reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the Covid-19 pandemic, but a heartening 81.8 per cent said they would be willing to seek professional help for mental health issues relating to the virus.

These were some of the preliminary findings from a study by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) that were announced at the Singapore Mental Health Conference 2021 on Aug 24.

Conducted in collaboration with the University of Hong Kong between May 2020 and June this year, the study involved 1,058 Singapore citizens and permanent residents.

In the two weeks before they were interviewed, 8.7 per cent of respondents met the criteria for clinical depression, while 9.4 per cent met the criteria for clinical anxiety. Out of all respondents, 4.8 per cent had both anxiety and depression.

(Read also “Are You Depressed? 7 Subtle Tell-Tale Signs Of Depression“)

In addition, 9.3 per cent met the criteria for mild to severe stress, while 7.6 per cent met the criteria for clinical insomnia.

Asked if the findings indicate a spike in mental health cases here, Dr Mythily Subramaniam, assistant chairman of IMH’s Medical Board (Research), said that there are currently no baseline statistics with which to accurately compare the study findings.

But she noted that in a yet unpublished study by IMH conducted prior to Covid-19, about 3 per cent of the 350 people sampled met the criteria for anxiety and 6 per cent met the criteria for depression.

(Read also “Have Anxiety? Give These Alternative Healing Methods A Go“)

Emphasising again that it is difficult to compare the two sets of statistics, she added: “It definitely looks like there has been an increase.”

In IMH’s latest study, 4.9 per cent of respondents said they had experienced suicidal thoughts in the two weeks before they were interviewed.

The top three sources of stress identified by participants were the risk of family members or friends getting infected by Covid-19, financial loss, such as losing work opportunities or having to take unpaid leave, and unemployment.

(Read also “Young Adults Are Borrowing More Money During The Pandemic“)

There was, however, a silver lining in the results: 81.8 per cent of respondents said they would seek professional help if they were to develop any emotional or psychological problems related to Covid-19.

The top five sources – in that order – from which people would ask for help were: general practitioners (GPs) or family doctors, counsellors, polyclinic doctors, psychiatrists, and religious or spiritual advisers.

Of the 17.8 per cent who said they would not seek professional help, 80.9 per cent said they could cope by themselves, while 50 per cent said they would seek help from friends and family first. About 22 per cent said it was too costly, while 21.3 per cent said they were too busy.

Dr Mythily said the number of those willing to seek help was “heartening” and “a good thing”.

“Typically, people are not willing to seek help for their mental health problems, whereas now with this pandemic, some of the stigma associated with mental health conditions has gone.

“People think, okay, now I have a reason, it’s not a reflection on me. There’s something outside my control which is causing stress, depression, or anxiety… it’s also a collective feeling that everybody’s struggling,” she explained.

But she added that with more people seeking help with mental health, Singapore will need to build up its capabilities to meet this demand.

“It is going to be the GPs and counsellors who people want to see, so that group has to be supported,” she said.

The study also found that certain factors such as social support were associated with higher resilience and lower likelihood of stress and depression in respondents.

Highlighting the need for social and institutional support, as well as access to professional help, Dr Mythily said: “Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the mental health of Singaporeans. We have a resilient population, but we have to realise resilience is not an individual responsibility.”

Getting help

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am – 12am)

Mental well-being

Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg website (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm)
Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928/6509-0271 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)/ Tinkle Friend website (Mon to Thu, 2.30pm to 7pm and Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)

Counselling

TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)

This article was first published in The Straits Times.