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Help for mentally ill to rejoin community

  Saturday, 05 l 03 l 2011  Source: The Straits Times   
By: Melissa Pang

THE Health Ministry is rolling out several measures to help the mentally ill integrate back into the community. These include more primary care medical support, training grassroots leaders how to deal with them, and helping the mentally ill return to work.

The first step is to base more multi-disciplinary mental health intervention teams in the community. They will lend support to the nearly 50 general practitioners who now care for over 600 patients whose conditions have stabilised. These new teams will support the GPs in managing simpler cases, and provide basic care. The Health Ministry will also equip community organizations and social service providers with the skills they need to better manage mentally ill patients. Some 2,000 grassroots leaders and frontline staff in eldercare agencies have been trained so far. Helplines linking patients to the resources they need have also been put in place.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said these programmes would be stepped up under the National Mental Health Blueprint. He was responding to questions from three MPs, including Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC). She was concerned about the rising number of Singaporeans, both young and old, affected by some form of mental illness. They “are still severely disadvantaged in the quantity and quality of care available to them”, she said, and asked if the ministry would consider enhancing funding for current programmes and roping in institutions to help.

Mr Khaw said the greatest bottleneck is not money but locating enough “enlightened people... who are prepared to keep their mind open and give these patients a hand”. Funding for service providers to the mentally ill will continue, he said. The Tote Board Community Healthcare Fund, for example, recently pumped in an additional $15 million for the cause.

Mr Khaw said job creation is the key to allowing the mentally ill to “properly reintegrate into the community” and giving them the “best chances for recovery”. The ministry would make that a focus of its efforts. “But to do so I need the support of many more enlightened employers to provide job opportunities for these ex-patients,” he said. To date, the Institute of Mental Health’s (IMH) Job Club has successfully helped 550 patients find jobs.

Dr Lee Cheng, senior consultant and chief of IMH’s department of community psychiatry, described acceptance and community support as most beneficial to the mentally ill. “It is very encouraging to see more focus and support for mental health care. They need the support from the community to be independent and live a life of normalcy,” he said.

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