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COVID-19: How helplines, counseling services fight Singapore’s invisible war for mental health

Written by Vulcan Post Published on   5 mins read

According to a survey by Statista last month, 20% of the respondents stated that their mental health had gotten worse during the COVID-19 circuit breaker period.

Mental health organisations and helplines in Singapore have reported a surge in the number of cases. Individuals share their anxiety, worries, and fear of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation is unlikely to ease anytime soon.

The concerns now revolve around the fear of getting infected, job loss, monotony from social isolation during this circuit breaker. These have escalated into mental health issues over time.

Furthermore, with the circuit breaker being extended, it has exacerbated mental health problems as citizens continue to face uncertainty and panic from the situation.

According to a Singapore survey by Statista last month, 20% of the respondents stated that the state of their mental health had gotten worse during the circuit breaker period.

Regardless of age and gender, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is clear to see as it has caused a widespread change in the daily life routines of many people.

Number Of Cases Sees Upticks From Circuit Breaker

The mental health organisations and hotlines we interviewed have seen increased cases as individuals cited their struggles with the pandemic as their main concern.

With regards to counseling, mental health specialist clinic Mind What Matters have seen about a “25% increase of help-seeking individuals since the original circuit breaker measures were put into place”.

They have also seen an increase in demand for Employment Assistance Programs (EAP) services, from many organisations of varying sizes and across industries.

EAPs provide assistance to employees for any personal or work-related problems and many companies have been seeking mental support for their workers.

This spike in numbers happened just after the extension of the circuit breaker was announced, said Dr Yang.

With the circuit breaker being extended, counselling service Silver Ribbon observed an increase of between 10 and 15 per cent in the number of calls as callers expressed fresh worries, said executive director Ms Porsche Poh.

For the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)’s 24-hour hotline, they have attended to an increase of more than 40% in the number of calls for the month of April, as compared to that of the same period in 2019.

Singapore-based mental wellness startup Safe Space has also reported an increase in their user base.

“Since the appearance of the first COVID-19 case in Singapore in January, Safe Space has seen a 64% increase in user growth,” said co-founder and CEO, Antoinette Patterson.

Cases That Stood Out

Those coping and recovering from COVID-19 are battling both physical and mental health challenges.

One of them is a female patient who is currently receiving treatment of COVID-19, but her road to recovery seems to be bleak.

“She reached out to us and said that she is feeling low and hopes that her condition will improve so that she can be discharged,” said Porsche of Silver Ribbon.

Many of such patients are feeling depressed as they are isolated in recovery facilities and missing their family members.

Read this: RedDoorz offers mental-health counseling for hospitality workers

Some callers also shared that they left their jobs a few months prior to the onset of the pandemic in hopes of searching for a better career opportunity.

However, the search for a new career has not been easy and smooth due to the impact of the pandemic, resulting in a sluggish job market and fewer job vacancies.

Rising tension at home has also been one of the main concerns for Singaporeans.

The extended time spent together during this pandemic may lead to rising tension and conflicts between members of the same household.

According to SOS, several clients have cited being caught in conflicts between spouses or between parent and child.

Just last month, there was a teenager who died by suicide after suffering from depression. According to the article, she was being cooped up at home and a poor relationship with her parents contributed to her emotional turmoil, although she was trying to overcome it.

In such situations, it is difficult for families to find alternative means of reducing tension outside of the household, which may lead to strained relationships and further confrontations.

Another main concern is decreased social interaction, which has hit the elderly people the hardest, said SOS.

While most of us are able to rely on digital platforms to maintain connectivity with loved ones, the elderly who are not as tech-savvy are calling the hotlines as they faced heightened sense of isolation and loneliness.

How They Cope With Serving The Nation’s Mental Health

To cope with the influx of pleas for help, the National Care Hotline was set up last month to help ease the burden that other specialized service helplines are receiving.

Over 300 psychologists, counselors, social workers, psychiatrists and public officers from about 50 agencies have stepped up to man the 24-hour helpline.

The hotline received more than 6,600 calls within 2 weeks.

Porsche noted that the highest period of incoming calls was in February, and it has since slowed down with the set-up of the National Care helpline and as more social service agencies come forward to offer online emotional support.

Silver Ribbon started offering online counseling services via video calls back in February.

On the other hand, SOS saw an increase in the number of volunteer applications during this period. Past volunteers have expressed their desire to help out on the hotlines for those in distress.

Meanwhile, Dr Yang from Mind What Matters, said that he will take up teleconsultations, because he sees the potential in online engagement.

He added that online consultations help to ease the pressure from physical visits to the clinics, and are also the next best alternative for patients who want to continue with their appointments without leaving their homes.

Mental Health Will Continue To Be A Battle Even After Circuit Breaker Ends

While the government is slowly easing some of the tighter restrictions put in place during the circuit breaker, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing has said that working from home will continue to be the norm for the majority even after the circuit breaker ends on June 1.

This means that we will have to continue observing social distancing measures and decrease human interaction as much as possible so that the infected numbers can be under control.

Moreover, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has confirmed that the country “will enter into a recession this year”.

With the impending recession, it only makes it harder for our ailing economy to recover after the circuit breaker ends.

The recession will also mean that firms may continue to reduce their labor costs through wage cuts and headcount reductions.

Such potential moves will cause Singaporeans to continue to experience stress and social isolation from the extended work-from-home measures and face job worries as the economy heads for a downturn.

This article first appeared in the Vulcan Post.


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