Psychologists in Singapore and other mental health professionals are troubled by the label that psychological treatments have received under the government’s Covid-19 Circuit Breaker Measures.

Psychological treatment and therapies have been labelled non-essential services, which means that the practitioners will not be exempt from workplace closures. These became effective on April 7 in an attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Chronology of Events

Psychological treatment was initially included among the essential services but upon revision of the document, therapy was taken out of the list.

Community mental health services also had their status modified. Providers of such assistance have been asked to work with their patients remotely as much as possible.

On April 5, the Singapore Psychological Society (PSP) negotiated successfully the provision of person-to-person assistance whenever remote work with patients was not possible. On April 6, the Ministry of Health confirmed that although remote work with patients was to be prioritised, person-to-person consultations would be allowed under the Circuit Breaker Measures but only for the most difficult cases.

Exceptions were to be made for high risk, unstable individuals in need of urgent assistance from an experienced psychiatrist.

While an exception is valid, psychologists in Singapore are not satisfied with the way that mental health services are labelled. This is especially indicative at a time when social distancing and quarantine measures are bound to contribute to higher rates of depression and anxiety among susceptible individuals.

Getting Mental Health Assistance during the Circuit Breaker Period

According to nominated MP Anthea Ong, the omission of mental health assistance from the essential services list shows the fact that mental health is still not a national priority. The decision can be explained by a “medicalised” view of psychological and psychiatric treatments that’s not in line with contemporary realities.

According to SPS President Cherie Chan, the labelling of therapy suggests that mental health services are considered less important than other kinds of medical assistance.

Just to put things in perspective, getting a haircut is included in the list of essential services.

Anyone who needs to seek therapy right now should first and foremost attempt to get a tele-consult. Depending on the specifics of the situation and the individual risk, a psychologist may decide to employ the exception and schedule a person-to-person consultation (following all of the required social distancing and hygienic measures, of course).

Singaporeans who are getting treatment for a mental health problem took it to Reddit to complain about their inability to get therapy while the circuit breaker period is in effect.

One person reported that one of their scheduled appointments was cancelled and there was no information about when re-scheduling would be possible.

There have also been some concerns about national facilities and treatment centres not offering online consultation options to their patients at all.

Obviously, professionals worry about the lockdown period triggering anxiety episodes, stress and depression. Thus, if you’re feeling isolated, lonely, apathetic, depressed or suicidal, you should get in touch with a mental health professional immediately.

Focus on Your Mental Health While the Lockdown Lasts

Regardless of the way mental health assistance is being labelled right now, you should prioritise your psychological wellbeing.

The World Economic Forum has called the Covid-19 lockdown “the world’s biggest psychological experiment.”  Nearly 2.6 billion people across the globe are experiencing some kind of lockdown.  Psychologists warn that the social distancing will lead to a boom of burnouts and even stress-related absenteeism once people go back to work.

In February 2020, the reputable Lancet journal published a review of 24 studies showing what the psychological effect of the quarantine is. Unsurprisingly, the results of the review show that people who have to endure a lengthy quarantine are likely to develop a range of psychological symptoms – from low mood to insomnia, anger, irritability and even post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Stoically enduring right now is not an option, especially if you’re experiencing significant distress. The mental health toll will increase the more you wait.

There are ways to introduce some normality in your life. Maintain a daily routine, learn something new, exercise, find ways to keep yourself busy and spend time with the people you love remotely. Live video streaming and messaging apps will be particularly beneficial in the situation.

If these measures don’t seem to work, however, you should acknowledge the feelings and get in touch with your psychologist or therapist as soon as possible.

We’re Here to Help

Your mental health should not suffer just because authorities have labelled therapy a non-essential service.

The Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic team is here for you.

While we may not be capable of meeting right now, we’re still ready to listen to you, offer assistance and consult you amid the circuit breaker period.

Use the Contact form on our website to let us know what’s going on and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Depending on the specifics of the situation, we’ll decide whether to do a remote consultation or if doing a person-to-person meeting would fall under the circuit breaker exceptions.

In the meantime, stay home and take good care of yourself and the people that you love. Having this opportunity can contribute to a lot of self-discovery and awareness. And don’t forget that we’re here to guide you through those difficult moments and minimise the burden, the uncertainty and fear you could be experiencing.