I’m sorry, if you’d like an appointment, you have to wait for 3 months.
If it’s an emergency you can come to the A&E (Accident and Emergency).
Would you like to proceed with making an appointment?
You might have encountered some version of this as you tried searching for help in Singapore.
I know, you’re desperate for help. And you’re not sure where else you can go.
Here’s how you might navigate the mental health services a little better in Singapore.
Don’t wait till you have a crisis
Mental health is best treated when you’re in the right frame of mind to access it, not when you have a crisis and are desperate for some sudden change.
If you feel some niggling worries, talk to someone.
Read books to inspire you
Whilst waiting, it can sometimes be terribly difficult to figure out how to carry on. That’s where books can help.
In Singapore, there have been more and more great books coming out to share about journeys through the unique culture of Singapore.
Books such as John’s Take Heart can be like Milo on a cold evening, that can better help you figure out how to sustain yourself whilst you are getting help.
The community nodes might be a better way of seeking help, faster
One of the biggest innovations in Singapore has been the introduction of Family Service Centres (FSC), which is akin to your local General Practitioner, except that it’s for social services.
You might face:
- Financial difficulty
- Domestic violence
- Mental health needs
When you walk in, you will immediately get seen, at no cost.
And within 2 weeks, they would normally assign a social worker to counsel you.
But you have to bear in mind that a social worker is not trained as a counsellor, and might not be as well-skilled as a therapist with a Master’s in Counselling.
You also can’t pick and choose your centre, but you have to instead go to the one that’s within your geographical boundary. You can check which one to go to under the FSC locator here.
I went to the FSC in 2016, and was seen relatively quickly, within 30 minutes of walking in.
The followup wasn’t great though. Again, this was probably unique to this particular FSC, as they probably triaged me as someone that wasn’t as serious.
If you have money, see a therapist
I would recommend that you see a professional therapist if you do have the money to spare. Prices range from $80 for those run by charities, to about $200 per session by those in private practice.
Here, there are 3 main types of therapists you can see.
My top two recommendations are the charities specialising in counselling.
Care Corner’s therapist are kickass at what they do, with an incredibly experienced team that have done this for decades.
One of their specialities is relationship counselling, with the therapist team being well trained in the Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
This is much different from Gottman, which some therapists can find difficult in an Asian context.
They offer full confidentiality (unless you are in danger of hurting yourself, or hurting someone else). Accessing them is by a secret door at the top of a staircase, meaning that you don’t have to be exposed for getting help.
It’s like private treatment, at a more budget price!
See a psychiatrist if your therapist recommends you to
When my therapist first recommended that I see a psychiatrist, I was reluctant. And when the psychiatrist eventually recommended that I take antidepressants, I refused. I thought that all I needed was more self-help books, techniques, and talk therapy.
Turns out, that didn’t work.
And Dr Ko helped me greatly through this journey.
Psychiatrists in private practice can be much faster to access (2 weeks compared to 3 months) than the public healthcare system in Singapore – but it also means that you need to be willing to fork out more money.
Continue your progress with in-person support groups
As someone who might struggle with your mental health, you might not know where to go to sustain your recovery.
That’s where groups can come in to support you as and when you need.
Most of these groups are free.
One group is Tapestry, which focuses on helping members to metabolise what they feel through journaling. They also organise monthly sessions to bring the group together.
During the last session I attended, it was warm and inviting to see people who were eager to share deeper, beneath the surface, huddled over typewriters. At the event, people were encouraged to type out letters to people that mattered to them.
It may be where you find your tribe too.
Another support group I’ve attended over the past 3 years has been Al-Anon, which focuses on supporting those who have family or friends suffering from alcoholism. Alcoholism is no simple disease.
If you’re the family of someone who suffers from this, you would be used to the chaos that ensues.
The tossed bottles, the shouting and screaming, and the sense of anxiety you have whenever the alcoholic walks into the room.
You just don’t know what to expect.
In this group, you share for 4 minutes, without any feedback from others. No one is going to interrupt you to ask a question, nor is anyone going to ‘reframe’ what you’re saying. It becomes an incredibly good way to feel heard, especially when you may be suffering alone for the past few years with the threat of alcoholism in your home.
What’s even better is that you don’t have to pay any money!
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, run by Psalt Care
When I first came back to Singapore, I struggled with binge eating and depression. Fortunately, I stumbled onto this group.
Each fortnight, they took time to organise sessions that allowed attendees to share what they were feeling, led by expert facilitators.
It’s a great place for recovery.
The mental health landscape is great, if you know how to navigate it
Having worked in places like China, Singapore, and the U.K., I’ve seen how Singapore does have great community initiatives that it is funding to help people better access help, when they want it, rather than when they need it.
Which may be too late.
On our end, we need to be willing to open up and ask for help.