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Homesingapore'It’s okay to seek help': Why do people in Singapore struggle with...

'It’s okay to seek help': Why do people in Singapore struggle with mental health issues?

SINGAPORE: Even at the age of seven, Rae (not her real name) felt different from her schoolmates. 

“I was thinking about things like money. I was thinking about things like getting good grades in order to do well in life in the future and get a stable job,” recalled the 23-year-old university student. “So I unknowingly carried a lot of burdens.”

Growing up, Rae had a chaotic childhood marked by instability at home and conditioned herself not to show emotions. 

She was later diagnosed with panic disorder at the age of 15, generalised anxiety disorder at 18, and major depressive disorder at 19. 

“Although I would say that the physical symptoms only came up in my teenage years, I am not sure until now whether the roots of it began when I was really young, during my childhood,” Rae, who is still on medication and coping with symptoms of anxiety, told CNA podcast Heart of the Matter.

“In primary school, I remembered being a child who was easily stressed, even though like my parents did not place any pressure on me in studying. But I was just someone who placed a lot of pressure on herself.”

Why people struggle with mental health issues in Singapore


Mental health has worsened in Singapore but more are willing to seek help, according to a survey by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

The National Population Health Survey, which was released last month, found that the prevalence of poor mental health rose from 13.4 per cent in 2020 to 17 per cent in 2022.

“The most difficult part was the loneliness of the journey and not understanding the seriousness of what I was going through,” said Rae, who was often misunderstood by her teachers as being lazy whenever she tried to recover from chest pains by  taking deep breaths and putting her head on her desk to rest. 

“I went on the internet, did some research and I realised that my symptoms have been going on for quite some time.”


For Mr Mak Kean Loong, who has been unemployed for six years since he was diagnosed with depression in 2017, the emotions experienced can be overwhelming. 

“I haven’t been able to work. The thought of starting to think about work has brought me into tailspins, where the emotions are so overwhelming that I cannot actually deal with them,” said the 44-year-old, who joined Rae on the show. 

“And I have to shut down and I stay at home and I don’t do anything.”

The electrical engineering graduate from the National University of Singapore had previously worked in IT for several companies. 

But Mr Mak decided to make one final call for help and called the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) hotline.

“I told myself, I will call them, I will be honest with them, I will not hang up first and I’ll do what they say. Those were the conditions I laid,” said Mr Mak, who was asked to visit the IMH’s emergency services.

“I talked to the doctor and he refused to let me go.”

Mr Mak was warded for six days before being discharged. 

Six years on, he is still in recovery and under intensive therapy and medication. 

“Financially, we’re very fortunate (and) very blessed, because my church and my extended family take care of us,” said Mr Mak.

“With that as the backdrop, it allowed me much more space, much more time to actually work on what really is the issue.”

He said one thing that is not usually talked about is internal stigma. 

“It’s not just about burdening others, but (the idea that) my problem is not big enough. Or if I even open my mouth to admit that I need some form of help, I’ve failed myself,” he noted. 

“Sometimes that internal stigma is so strong that (it feels like) you’re stuck in a conversation with yourself in a silo. You can’t reach out, you can’t have people reach in, you don’t know what to do.”

Mr Chris Wong, a senior clinical psychologist with Resilienz Clinic, agreed that the stigma of mental health illnesses or conditions has stopped people “from talking about their mental health issues, because of the implications (and) how people will look at them”. 

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