A mind-field for children1 in 10 kids has a mild mental disorder but new initiative set to help
by Wayne Chan Updated 12:26 PM Nov 09, 2010
SINGAPORE - There are some 500,000 children between the ages of six and 16 here. And about one in 10 has a mild mental disorder, an expert from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) has estimated based on a national survey in 2004.
In most cases, the children can be treated by community mental health services such as school counsellors and family doctors trained in mental health disorders, while 5,000 are serious cases which require specialist care, according to Associate Professor Daniel Fung, director of IMH's Response, Early Intervention and Assessment in Community Health (Reach) programme.
The question is whether enough children are being identified and given timely support.
Yesterday, three organisations announced a collaborative effort to that end. IMH, KK Women's and Children's Hospital and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have brought together expertise in paediatrics, psychiatry and neuroscience in one location: St Andrew's Community Hospital in Simei.
Apart from treatment, the multi-agency collaboration will address children's developmental needs, including learning problems such as language, and conduct research on their mental health, for instance by examining the link between metabolism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.
The facility is also studying healthy infants in a developmental research programme designed to find risk factors for cognitive problems.
Welcoming the initiative, Ms Denise Phua, the supervisor of Pathlight and Eden School boards, noted there are "now enough avenues to help children with mental health issues". "But what I'm concerned with is how they are going to identify these kind of children," said Ms Phua. "What would help is constant communication between families and the help agencies."
Other than parents who come forward to seek help for their children, school counsellors and voluntary welfare organisations can also refer children to the new facilities.
A*STAR senior investigator and associate director (growth development and metabolism programme) Professor Michael Meaney said the mental health numbers in Singapore are similar to those in developed countries, which come with modern cultural and economic demands and where parents spend less time with their children.
While some might associate mental problems with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder or autism, for example, the experts said it is also important to look for mild anxiety disorders, such as refusing to go to school, separation anxiety or social anxiety.
"For example, a child who does not want to go to school may complain of abdominal pain," KKH chairperson (division of medicine) Professor Chay Oh Moh said. "Our colleagues from the Education Ministry know there are some facilities to help these children. But it's more like when they're already struggling, then they're identified. That may be a bit late."