1 in 7 people in Singapore have experienced a mental disorder – and some millennials are more susceptible to mood and alcohol-related ones

Around one in seven people in Singapore have experienced a mental disorder at some point in their lives.
Singapore Press Holdings

A study has found that more people in Singapore have experienced mental disorders at some point in their lives.

The 2016 study found that one in seven people in Singapore (13.9 per cent) have experienced specific mood, anxiety, or alcohol use disorders in their lifetime. This proportion is an increase from roughly one in eight (12 per cent) six years prior.

The second Singapore Mental Health Study (SMHS), which was released on Tuesday (Dec 11), was spearheaded by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), involving interviews with 6,126 Singaporeans and permanent residents.

The study assessed six common mental disorders, namely: mood disorders – major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder; anxiety disorders – obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalised anxiety disorder; and alcohol use disorders – alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

Among these conditions, depression was the most common mental disorder in Singapore, with one in 16 (6.3 per cent) having had the condition at some point in their lives.

Alcohol abuse and OCD rounded off the top three mental disorders in Singapore. One in 24 people have experienced alcohol abuse, while one in 28 people have suffered from OCD.

Alarmingly, the study found that millennials aged 18 to 34, and people who were divorced or separated, were more likely to have mood disorders such as major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

Similarly, males aged 18 to 34, and people who were lowly-educated and employed, were more likely to have alcohol use disorders.

Increased lifetime prevalence of illnesses

Lifetime prevalence is the proportion of people that at some point in their life – up to the time of assessment – have experienced a condition.

The lifetime prevalence of all mental disorders showed an increase — especially for generalised anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse.

The proportion of respondents who had suffered from generalised anxiety disorder increased from 0.9 per cent in 2010 to 1.6 per cent in 2016.

And the proportion of respondents who had experienced alcohol abuse increased from 3.1 per cent in 2010 to 4.1 per cent in 2016.

The lifetime prevalence of all mental disorders showed an increase.
IMH

Psychiatric comorbidity – which means having two or more mental disorders at the same time – also showed an increase of one percentage point.

More are seeking treatment earlier, but most did not seek help

Unfortunately, most of these sufferers (more than three-quarters) did not seek any professional help.

And the small proportion of people who did seek help took years to do so.

Those with OCD took an average of a whopping 11 years to seek help in 2016 – the longest treatment delay duration recorded in the study. To make things worse, this was actually an increase of two years since 2010.

The next two groups of people who took the longest to seek help were those with bipolar disorder and those who abused alcohol. These two groups of people took an average of four years to seek help in 2016. On the bright side, treatment delay for bipolar disorder decreased by five years since 2010, while that for alcohol abuse decreased by a whole nine years.

Fortunately, those with alcohol dependence sought help from a professional almost immediately (within a year) after the start of associated symptoms. This treatment delay duration was also a drop, of around two years, since 2010.

Here’s a comparative chart in treatment delay showing data collected from both 2010 and 2016 studies:

Those who had sought help for their mental disorders were doing so earlier, except for those with OCD.
IMH

Around 42.3 per cent of respondents who sought help consulted a psychiatrist, while 36.5 per cent went to a counsellor, 26.2 per cent sought a psychologist and 20 per cent visited a general practitioner or family doctor.

The two common reasons for treatment delay, researchers said, were the inability to recognise symptoms, and concerns regarding metal illness stigma.