First such facility here to help them return to living safely in society
A HALFWAY house will go a long way in helping children and young people with mental disorders get back to living safely in the community. Such a residential facility is what the Singapore Association for Mental Health
(SAMH) plans to set up.
It will be the first such facility in Singapore as existing ones cater only to people over 18 years old who have mental health issues.
The funding for this initiative comes from Temasek Cares, a non-profit philanthropic organisation. Since April last year, it has committed $472,000 over two years towards SAMH’s YouthReach programme. SAMH acting head Ang Poh Hee said: “With the money, we are able to develop resources like manpower to help the children and youth stay within the community.” With the funding, SAMH is also adding mentorship and a 24-hour helpline under its YouthReach programme.
This will help reach out to more than 170 children and young people with mental disorders.
Volunteers are also needed for this, said SAMH president Daniel Fung, who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
“We are looking for young people to come on board as volunteers to support and guide those struggling with their disorders and to get back to the community,” he said. He added that young people needing the most help are likely to be from the higher- risk groups such as school dropouts. “While MCYS (Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) is monitoring them, we still need concrete programmes to get them to a safe arena,” he said.
YouthReach was started in 2006 to address the lack of community-based support for children and young people with mental disorders. It is the first community- based support programme providing intensive case management strictly for those aged between 11 and 18 who are diagnosed with mental disorders. But it was only in June last year that it expanded to include those at risk with serious psychological or emotional issues. Mr Ang said that, as a result, Youth- Reach can now help more young people who have not been receiving proper mental intervention. Some activities useful in this area include counselling, art therapy and sports.
Despite their afflictions, these children and young people can still develop to their maximum potential and reintegrate with their family and the community, added Dr Fung, who is also chairman of the medical board at the Institute of Mental Health. The new halfway house will help such children and young people further develop
social and functional life skills that will enable them to live safely within the community. Ms Woon Saet Nyoon, general manager of Temasek Cares, said a National Mental Health Survey last month found that the number of young people with mental afflictions seems to be increasing. “We at Temasek Cares want to help provide the financial means for early intervention programmes and equip these kids with life skills so they can get help and don’t develop serious mental problems,” she said.
Dr Fung added that a residential programme would be ideal to help bridge the transition from hospitalisation to a return to society. “It is often difficult for an adult with mental disorder to make the transition from being hospitalised to being back in society, let alone a child,” he said.
“Currently, there are no residential facilities for them and staying long term at the hospital will make it even harder to assimilate back.” He said the challenge would be to make sure “we have the support system to handle
this and available resources are created within the community to carry it out”. Indeed, the YouthReach programme has shown good results. Of the 140 children and young people helped between November last year and September, about 91 per cent or 127 stayed out of hospital or cut down on the time they were warded. Dr Fung said that only about 1 per cent were deemed “serious cases”, which include major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.