If you’re in urgent need of help,
Samaritans of Singapore 1800 221 4444 (Suicide Prevention/Crisis hotline)
Hello! This is the first part of a series of evidence-based mental health articles that’ll cover a broad range of topics: free and affordable mental health resources in Singapore, how we can seek psychiatric help, strategies we can use to improve your wellbeing, and stories of people with mental disorders. The next article will cover more on mental health and on seeking help, so stay tuned!
This article will cover some general questions on mental health, psychiatry, and psychology. If you have any feedback or questions you’d like to see answered in future articles, click here!
Will seeking psychiatric help or having a mental illness affect my job prospects? Will I have to declare my seeing a psychiatrist or having a mental disorder when applying for a job?
No. The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, which the MOM refers to when dealing with employee discrimination, has stated that employers are not allowed to request job applicants to declare mental health issues or discriminate against those with mental health issues.
Who will know that I’ve sought psychiatric help? Will my parents know that I sought therapy or counselling?
Counsellors and psychotherapists are generally required to keep all the information that you’ve given them confidential. In some cases, such as when a professional believes that you may harm yourself or other people, your confidentiality rights will be waived.
For some counselling organisations, like TOUCH Youth Intervention, therapy for minors cannot begin unless they’ve received parental consent. Whereas for some private practices, psychiatrists will see minors without their parents knowing. Even at the Institute of Mental Health, many psychiatrists see minors who request not to involve their parents. Nonetheless, clinicians generally recommend that you inform your parents before seeking help.
But if you feel that telling your parents about your mental health issues can worsen your mental health issues, you can always ask whoever you’re seeing their protocols and inform them of your concerns.
For school counsellors, the issue is a bit more complicated. School counsellors often have to file reports that’ll be seen by their superiors, like principals and vice-principals, and private therapists and counsellors don’t have to do this. And because these higher-ups don’t receive the same ethics training as counsellors do, they might not know what to do with this information.
Do I have a mental disorder?
Only a diagnostician (eg. a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist) can determine whether or not you have a mental disorder.
Anyone can develop a mental disorder at any stage of life. Some disorders like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders can arise at any age and to any demographic, while other disorders like ASD and ADHD arise and may start to present symptoms at very young ages (APA, 2013).
Different mental disorders have different symptoms and can occur as a result of different reasons; if you suspect you have a mental disorder, it’s always best to seek professional help.
Should I seek psychiatric help?
If you have thoughts of suicide, the intention to commit suicide, or thoughts of hurting other people, you should seek psychiatric help immediately.
If you feel that “something is not quite right”, the American Psychiatric Association has the following list of symptoms as warning signs of mental illness:
- Sleep or appetite changes: Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or decline in personal care
- Mood changes: Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions or depressed feelings
- Withdrawal: Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Drop in functioning: An unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Problems thinking: Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain
- Increased sensitivity: Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
- Apathy: Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity
- Feeling disconnected: A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality
- Illogical thinking: Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult
- Nervousness: Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling
- Unusual behavior: Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior
The APA recommends that if you notice yourself experiencing several of these symptoms, seeking help may be useful to you. If you notice a person exhibiting these symptoms, it could also indicate that they may need psychiatric intervention.
What exactly is a mental disorder/illness anyway?
“Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.”
—The Mayo Clinic (Hyperlinks my own.)
There are hundreds of types of mental disorders, each of which present with different symptoms. If you feel like you may have a mental illness, or that you display traits of mental illnesses as listed by the APA, it’ll best to see a clinician or mental health professional to receive any treatment, if necessary.
One-in-seven Singaporeans have faced a mental disorder, while one-in-three youths in Singapore have self-harmed. Mental illnesses are prevalent among all demographics, and early-intervention can mean the difference between life and death. If you’re looking for online-resources available to you during the current circuit breaker period, this document provides a comprehensive list. (I am not affiliated with the author(s) of the document).
- American Psychiatric Association. What is Psychiatry? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-psychiatry
- American Psychological Association. Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-psychotherapy
- National Health Service. (2018). Antidepressants. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antidepressants/
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Mental Health Medications. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/mental-health-medications/index.shtml
- WebMD. Guide to Psychiatry and Counselling. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/guide-to-psychiatry-and-counseling
- American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.