Last March 30, Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic’s own Ms Sue Ann Han recently joined a panel organized by U PME, Job Opportunities in the Mental Health Sector, to help address the effects of COVID-19 on Singapore’s mental health as well as to shed some light on how to become an industry practitioner.
Ms Sue Anne contributed a wealth of information on how the current health crisis is affecting Singaporean mental health and how to differentiate between the different mental health practitioners and what each one focuses on. Here are some of the key points:
Psychiatrists in Singapore are the most extensively trained practitioners in the field of mental health. Just to become a fully licensed psychiatrist takes 11 or more years of study and practice. As such, they are involved in all aspects of the practice from diagnosis, therapy, and if needed, in issuing prescription medication.
They’re the only mental health practitioners in Singapore with a license to practice medicine. As such, they’re trained in pharmacology and are qualified to give medical prescriptions to patients who need them.
Diagnosis is also a primary function of a clinical psychologist. However, clinical psychologists are not qualified to prescribe medication to their patients. Instead, they can simply refer them to a psychiatrist if they think pharmacological intervention is needed.
Where a clinical psychologist’s expertise lies is in psychotherapy. They employ evidence-based interventions such as EMDR and art therapy to try to help patients through their mental health disorders.
Clinical psychologists also have expertise in psychometric assessments such as IQ, personality, and neuropsychology.
Becoming a clinical psychologist in Singapore requires an undergraduate degree and a master’s or doctor’s degree in psychology.
Counselors are mental health practitioners with a particular focus on evidence-based intervention methods. However, the difference between a counsellor and a clinical psychologist is that they’re not qualified to diagnose mental illness.
People who are already aware of their mental health condition or have already been diagnosed with mental illness by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist are usually referred to a counsellor for extended psychotherapy treatment.
In a way, social workers are the front-liners of the mental health practice. They’re tasked to answer calls of possible family situations where mental health is involved. They often respond to mental health crises related to societal factors.
In a lot of cases, they’re the first responders to events where child protection services may be involved. Their main focus is on crisis management meaning they’re trained in de-escalation and immediate mental health check-ups on patients. Afterward, they serve as the link between a patient and the relevant mental health practitioner.
A Period of Ambiguous Adjustment
The circuit breaker measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 have introduced a lot of uncertainty to the Singaporean psyche. Anxiety and depression, therefore, have risen in the community to an all-time high.
Luckily, mental health is slowly losing its stigma. Panels such as this one organized by the U PME play a huge part in this decline.
The fact that Singaporeans have had to adjust multiple times because of the circuit breaker measures that the government put in place has taken a huge toll on everyone’s mental wellbeing. Initially, the circuit breaker was slated for just two weeks. However, once it was clear that the virus was still spreading, it was extended to another four weeks.
This created what Ms Sue Anne calls a period of ambiguous adjustment. “There’s no healthy vision of what the end of the tunnel would be,” she says. The most natural thing to feel in these circumstances, even for mentally fit individuals, is to experience stress and a lack of comfort. If left unchecked, this period might result in a more serious mental disorder.
Some people might not need interventions. In a lot of cases, they’ll be able to cope on their own. Simple activities such as going for a walk with family members can already a lot for one’s mental health. Ms Sue Anne also recommends journaling. “One thing I like to do is to create a gratitude and credit journal whereby families can get together in a reflection time and talk about what they’re grateful about and what’s one thing that they can give themselves credit for. Because a lot of us don’t give credit to ourselves.”
The Need for More Mental Health Professionals
However, there are quite a lot of people whose coping mechanisms may prove lacking. Mental health practitioners are needed to help them through the tough times that still lay ahead of us in the economic recovery period.
During these times when a lot of companies are still asked to minimize in-person work settings, people’s mental health is still at risk. Social isolation caused by the work-from-home order can often lead to depression and the sheer number of people forced by the pandemic to do this can easily overwhelm the mental health infrastructure in Singapore. The uncertainty that the health crisis brings can also bring anxiety to a lot of Singaporeans.
For these reasons, the U PME is encouraging more people to consider going into mental health practice or use this period to transition into the field. It’s a great way to help others and it’s a surprisingly rewarding career as well.