60,000 subsidised outpatients seek treatment for mental disorders each year: Gan Kim Yong

60,000 subsidised outpatients seek treatment for mental disorders each year: Gan Kim Yong

Depression in a corner
(File photo: AP)

SINGAPORE: Public healthcare providers treated an average of about 60,000 subsidised outpatients for mental disorders each year over the last three years, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Monday (Jan 6).

In a written answer to a Parliament question from Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Walter Theseira, Mr Gan also said that an average of 6,900 subsidised patients were hospitalised for mental health conditions each year between 2016 and 2018.

Their average length of stay was 21 days per admission.

The five most common mental health conditions seen at public hospitals were schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and substance abuse. 

At the polyclinics, depression, anxiety and insomnia were the most common mental health conditions.

Schizophrenia and depression were also common conditions seen by community intervention teams funded under the Ministry of Health, he said. 

Associate Professor Theseira had asked Mr Gan for the demographics of patients receiving psychiatric treatment and mental health support at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), polyclinics, specialist outpatient clinics at restructured hospitals and under government-funded programmes in the last three years.

He had also asked for a break down on the number of patients, duration of inpatient stay or treatment length, types of mental health condition, age, income and time taken between the onset of symptoms and treatment.

For the whole public healthcare system, the average age of subsidised patients for the different mental health conditions seen was between 40 to 50 years old, Mr Gan said. 

MOH does not track data on income or the time between onset of symptoms and treatment.

However, he referred to the 2016 Singapore Mental Health Study, a self-reported survey, in which respondents cited 11 years as the median time between when they first experienced symptoms and when they sought help for obsessive compulsive disorder. 

The median time was four years for bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse, two years for generalised anxiety disorder and one year for major depressive disorder. 

“Stigma and lack of mental health literacy may be contributory factors to the delay,” said Mr Gan.

“We have community outreach teams to educate the public on mental health conditions and dementia, and refer those with such conditions to the appropriate health and/ or social services,” Mr Gan said.


In a separate response to NMP Anthea Ong on waiting times for outpatient appointments at IMH, specialist outpatient clinics, polyclinics and government-funded programmes, Mr Gan said that a new subsidised patient would have waited an average median time of 27 days to see a psychiatrist and 28 days to see a psychologist across the public hospitals in 2018. 

Ms Ong had also asked for data on the professional-to-patient ratio and measures taken to reduce waiting times.

On this, Mr Gan said that there are around 248 psychiatrists and 473 psychologists practising in Singapore. This translates into 4.4 psychiatrists and 8.36 psychologists per 100,000 population.

Mr Gan also said that within the public health sector, the number of psychiatrists and psychologists has increased by 8 per cent to 182 and 7 per cent to 171, respectively, over the last three years. 

“MOH does not have specific numbers on counsellors practising in Singapore as many healthcare professionals and social workers provide counselling as part of their work,” he said. 

Mr Gan said that anyone requiring urgent mental health assistance or who wishes to see a psychiatrist, may contact the IMH's 24-hour mental health helpline or visit its 24-hour emergency services. 

For cases requiring community support, patients can be referred to community outreach teams and community intervention teams. These cases are usually contacted within two weeks, he said. 

To reduce waiting time, hospitals have implemented measures such as reviewing work processes to optimise appointment slots and efficiency of clinical operations and tiering services to the appropriate level of care, he said. 

As of March 2019, the Government has 41 community outreach teams and 21 allied health-led community intervention teams providing mental health support, said. 

“MOH will continue to work with public hospitals and service providers in the community, including schools, social service agencies and family service centres, to ensure that we provide holistic and timely support for persons with mental healthcare Needs,” Mr Gan said.

Source: CNA/ja