Giving Hope to Life
Overcoming Mental Disorders
A typical workday sees Faith Wong, a senior peer support specialist in IMH, facilitating peer support groups and providing recovery coaching for individuals with moods disorders. She gets to know them, shares her story, and supports them through their recovery journey. To many of her clients, 38-year-old Faith is an example of what recovery could look like for them.
But the path to recovery hasn't been easy for Faith. In fact, for a long time, she didn't think she would make it in her battle against bipolar disorder. Faith was diagnosed with the condition, which can lead to extreme mood swings of emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression), when she was 18 years old. Over the years, she tried various medication and treatments, but nothing really worked for her. For many years, she experienced rapid cycles of mania and depression – with more frequent and intense episodes of depression and thoughts of suicide. Some days were so bad she couldn't leave her bed and was crying constantly. "I couldn't think properly," she says "I felt constant fatigue and like l was trapped in a dark dungeon where there was no way out."
She often thought about ending it all but family support and her faith kept her going. "I hoped that one day I would find meaning in all this pain," she says.
In 2016, she heard about a new treatment called Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) from her psychiatrist. rTMS uses strong magnetic pulses to stimulate specific parts of the brain to improve symptoms of depression for those who had not responded well to standard treatment. Faith decided to give it a shot, and began seeing improvement after two sessions.
Things are better for Faith now. "Life is good now. I can plan ahead, without worrying about the "blackout" periods where I was non-functional or constantly battle my symptoms," she says. "Twenty years of pain, but now I am in a place where I can support others in their recovery."
Singapore Mental Health Study
A growing number of people in Singapore are struggling with mental disorders. The Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2016 found that almost 13.9% – 1 in 7 people – of the adult population here has experienced a mood, anxiety or alcohol use disorder in their lifetime, an increase from the 12% – 1 in 8 people – when the study was first conducted in 2010. While these conditions affect people of all ages, they tend to be more prevalent among those between the ages of 18 and 34.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the most common mental disorder in Singapore. Characterised by an intense feeling of sadness, emptiness, worthlessness and hopelessness, MDD has affected 1 in 16 people here at some point in their lifetime. When untreated, an individual with MDD may have suicidal thoughts or intentions which might lead to suicidal attempts or even actual suicide.
Among the elderly, dementia is a common mental disorder causing distress and adversely impacting lives. One in 10 aged 60 and above in Singapore has dementia, while half of those above 85 are impacted. Studies expect the numbers to rise from 82,000 to more than 100,000 between 2018 and 2030.
Without proper treatment and management, mental health conditions can make some individuals more vulnerable to suicidal tendencies. According to WHO's report in 2019, 1 suicide occurs every 40 seconds on average. Locally, there were 400 reported suicides in Singapore in 2019, up from 397 in the year before. Most age groups registered a slight increase in the number of suicide deaths last year. While there is no data on the causes of suicide for these 400 persons, it is likely that some of these suicides are associated with mental illness.
Mental disorders can be treated and managed. Research is key to shaping how clinicians treat and deal with mental disorders. Besides enhancing understanding of various conditions, it will lead to better means of identifying individuals who are at risk of developing mental illness, enable early intervention, and work towards improved care, treatment and outcomes.
Our Research Track Record
In NHG, our mental health research is spearheaded by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). Their achievements include:
•Singapore Mental Health Study (SMHS), A landmark nationwide study that provided, for the first time, comprehensive insight into the mental health status of Singaporeans. A follow-up study was conducted in 2016.
•Well-being of the Singapore Elderly (WiSE) Study, which established the prevalence of dementia (and its economic cost), depression in the elderly population and the extent and nature of caregiver burden, was cited in the World Alzheimer Report 2015.
You too, can shine a light for people with mental health conditions. Your support helps clinicians to:
•Understand and create awareness of mental health in Singapore to enable prioritising of mental illnesses to be targeted.
•Identify, treat and reduce harm from mental disorders.
•Develop more effective and sustainable treatments.
Find out how you can help patients with mental disorders and stop suicides.
 Institute of Mental Health. Mental disorders affect 1 in 4 people in the world. Singapore; IMH. file:///D:/NHG/NHG%20Research%20Brochure_single%20pages.pdf.
 Lim, J. (2019, October 14). The Big Read: With youths more open about mental health, it's time others learn to listen. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/mental-health-youths-suicide-depression-listen-11994612.
 Nearly 3 in 4 persons with dementia in Singapore feel ashamed, rejected: Study. CNA. (2019, April 29). https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/nearly-3-in-4-persons-with-dementia-in-singapore-feel-ashamed-11487380.
 World Health Organization. (2019, September 9). Suicide: one person dies every 40 seconds. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/09-09-2019-suicide-one-person-dies-every-40-seconds.
 Suicides in Singapore up 10% last year, record high among boys. CNA. (2019, July 29). https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/suicides-number-2018-teenagers-boys-highest-11761480.