6 common mental disorders affecting Singaporeans today and where you can go to get help

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There’s been an increase in the number of Singapore adults who have suffered from a mental disorder in their lifetimes, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) said recently.

According to a 2016 study, one in seven people in Singapore have experienced specific mood, anxiety, or alcohol use disorders in their lifetime, up from roughly one in eight six years prior.

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

Part of the study’s findings is the alarming revelation that most of these sufferers (more than three-quarters) have never sought any professional help for their illnesses.

Where to get help

Beyond IMH and other hospitals that provide psychiatric care, General Practitioners (GPs) and polyclinics can be a first touchpoint for those who think they have a mental health issue. GPs and polyclinic doctors offer care and intervention to those with mild to moderate mental health issues in the community, IMH said.

They can also contact the 24-hour Mental Health Helpline (MHH) at 6389 2222 for advice from trained counsellors. These counsellors are trained to provide risk assessment, de-escalate crises and link callers to relevant social services for assistance.

According to IMH, those aged 16 to 30 can participate in the Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT), a national youth mental health programme that provides advice and help for emotional and mental health issues. CHAT works to raise awareness of mental health issues, and provides free confidential assessment services and information.

In addition, there are community services and outreach programmes provided by schools (for students), family service centres and voluntary welfare organisations such as Club HEAL (Hope, Empowerment, Acceptance and Love), Silver Ribbon and Singapore Association for Mental Health to support people with mental health issues.

Social stigma has long prevented mental illness sufferers from seeking professional help, but this need not be the case.

To raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues, the guide below explains what the six most common mental illnesses in Singapore are, and how prevalent they are today.


#1 – Major depressive disorder

Depression was the most common mental illness in Singapore (among the conditions assessed in the study), with one in 16 people (6.3 per cent) having had the condition at some point in their lives. This was an increase from 2010, when only one in 17 people (5.8 per cent) reported having the condition before.

A depressed person may have suicidal thoughts or intentions which might lead to suicide attempts or even actual suicide.
Singapore Press Holdings

Major depressive disorder is characterised by a profound feeling of sadness, emptiness, worthlessness and hopelessness. This is associated with a range of other symptoms – such as loss of interest in activities, loss of pleasure in almost all activities, sleep disturbances (either not being able to sleep well or sleeping too much), loss of appetite with consequent loss of weight, and sometimes, overeating.

Difficulty in concentrating, loss of energy, tiredness and listlessness can lead to significant impairment in functioning. A depressed person may have suicidal thoughts or intentions which might then lead to suicide attempts or even actual suicide.

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, the 2016 study found.


#2 – Alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse was the second most common mental illness in Singapore. It affected one in 24 (4.1 per cent) of people in Singapore, a sharp increase from one in 32 people (3.1 per cent) in 2010.

Males aged 18 to 34, and people who were lowly-educated and employed, were more likely to have alcohol use disorders.
Singapore Press Holdings

Alcohol abuse is diagnosed when one or more of the following occurs: Recurrent alcohol use resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g. repeated absences or poor work performance related to alcohol use, alcohol-related absences, suspensions or expulsions from school, or neglect of family or household); recurrent use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g. driving a car while under the influence of alcohol); having alcohol-related legal problems (e.g. arrested for alcohol-related disorderly conduct); continuing to use alcohol despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by the effects of alcohol (e.g. arguments with wife over consequences of being drunk or fights).

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


#3 – Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

In 2016, OCD affected one in 28 people (3.6 per cent) in Singapore, an increase from one in 33 people (3 per cent) in 2010.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours (e.g. repetitive hand washing or checking) or mental acts (e.g. repetitive praying, counting, or thinking good thoughts to undo or replace bad thoughts) that the affected individual feels compelled to do.
Singapore Press Holdings

OCD is characterised by the occurrence of obsessions, compulsive rituals or, most commonly, both recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are intrusive and cause great anxiety.

OCD is not just having excessive worries about real life issues; the affected individual attempts to ignore, suppress, or neutralise them with other thoughts or actions and recognises that these thoughts are a product of his or her mind.

Examples of obsessions include – unwanted thoughts or images of harming loved ones, persistent doubts that one has not locked doors or switched off electrical appliances, and intrusive thoughts of being contaminated.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours – such as repetitive hand washing – or mental acts – such as repetitive praying and counting – that the affected individual feels compelled to do in response to an obsession or according to rigid rules (such as checking that a light switch is turned off by switching it on and off exactly ten times).


#4 – Generalised anxiety disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder, which affected one out of 62 people (1.6 per cent) in Singapore, showed a sharp increase from one out of 111 people (0.9 per cent) in 2010.

Generalised anxiety disorder often leads to symptoms like restlessness, fatigue, irritability, and disturbed sleep.
Singapore Press Holdings

The essential feature of generalised anxiety disorder is a general feeling of excessive anxiety and worry that is difficult to control.

These feelings are not related to any specific event or object but may be about a number of events and activities. They are often accompanied by other symptoms like restlessness, fatigue, irritability, and disturbed sleep.

Generalised anxiety disorder can be chronic and recurrent in nature. It can impair family life and reduce social adjustment and functioning.

The illness typically develops over a period of time and may not be noticeable until it is significant enough to cause problems with functioning.


#4 – Bipolar disorder

Also in fourth place is bipolar disorder, which affected one out of 62 people (1.6 per cent) of people in Singapore, up from one in 83 people (1.2 per cent) in 2010.

This disorder is characterised by depressive episodes and mania – abnormally elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.
Singapore Press Holdings

This disorder is characterised by depressive episodes (as described in major depressive disorder) and mania, which is characterised by abnormally elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.

There may be an inflated sense of self-esteem or even grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, talkativeness, agitation, a tendency to engage in activities which while pleasurable, would have painful consequences like spending sprees without the money to pay for them, increased sexual activity, reckless driving, as well as rash business and personal decisions. This state is often severe enough to seriously affect the person’s life.


#6 – Alcohol dependence

The sixth most common type of mental disorder is alcohol dependence, which one in 200 people in Singapore suffer from. This figure has remained the same as that in 2010.

Alcohol dependence leads to clinically significant impairment or distress.
Singapore Press Holdings

Alcohol dependence is defined as a maladaptive pattern of alcohol use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.

Cognitive, behavioural and physical symptoms include increased alcohol tolerance (a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect); unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when intake is stopped or reduced; and a consuming preoccupation to obtain and use alcohol at the expense of other important social, occupational and recreational activities.

The individual persists in using alcohol even with the knowledge that his/her recurrent physical or psychological problem is likely to be caused or exacerbated by the alcohol (For instance, continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcohol consumption).

SOURCE: IMH