Spike in mental health crises

Time out: Many students found home-based learning stressful and missed the social interactions of schooling. — The Straits Times/ANN

CALLS to the Samaritans of Singapore’s (SOS) mental health helpline spiked 40% on May 16, the day Singapore started heightened alert restrictions.

Following the announcement of restrictions on May 4, SOS recorded a 12% increase in the volume of calls that week compared with the week before, SOS chief executive Gasper Tan said.

Seven out of 10 mental health organisations and professionals The Straits Times spoke with saw spikes of between 20% and 60% in queries and incidents like mental health crises because of the pandemic and the social restrictions used to contain the virus’ spread.

Those increased restrictions and the subsequent loss of support from outside the home compounded stress factors such as fears about the virus, difficult living situations, and fears about job loss and the future, say social workers.

Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL), a non-profit organisation that helps the caregivers of those with mental health issues, said it saw a “disturbing increase” in attempted and completed suicides between May last year and April this year among people being cared for.

CAL’s head of communications, Tricia Lee, said: “We have seen a rise in crisis cases as the mental health appointments or daycare programmes of caregivers’ loved ones were halted. The social restrictions in some cases caused rising tension within families, increasing the risk of relapse (into a mental health crisis).”

Many students also found home-based learning stressful and missed the social interactions of schooling, support organisations said.

Cho Ming Xiu, founder and executive director of Campus PSY, a mental health organisation for youth, said that it has seen a 40% increase in the number of young people seeking emotional support via e-mail, and a 20% to 30% increase across social media platforms.

Despite Singapore’s experience with the circuit breaker last year, the speed at which heightened alert measures came into effect made the situation difficult for many.

“With the sudden limitations of movement, many callers found themselves struggling to adapt to the restrictions, ” said SOS’ Tan.

“Many had to cancel their plans and return to working from home or home-based learning, which contribute to a state of helplessness.

“The accumulation of these stressors may be overwhelming and with no one to speak to, they reach out to SOS.”

However, the experience of last year’s circuit breaker helped some organisations prepare for the sudden onset of restrictions, which included a ban on dining in and reduced group sizes for social meetings from five to two.

To meet the intensified need for support, CAL has increased its number of helplines from one to six since April last year, as well as the frequency of its Caregivers-to-Caregivers programmes. These programmes provide fully funded training and support to caregivers of people with mental health issues, such as dementia. — The Straits Times/ANN

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