SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has in place "various level of checks to determine the psychological well-being of service personnel" who handle live arms, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said in a written Parliamentary reply on Monday (Feb 6).
These include a medical screening for both physical and mental health conditions before enlistment, where pre-enlistees are asked explicitly if they have a previous record of mental health conditions. A parent or guardian is also required to endorse this declaration, Dr Ng said.
"There is a balance between privacy for the enlistee and potential safety concerns of those with previous mental health conditions," the Defence Minister said.
He added that since 2016, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF have been working with the Ministry of Health to identify pre-enlistees with records of mental health history at public hospitals.
"If a possible mental health condition is surfaced, the pre-enlistee will be referred to appropriate specialists to certify that that enlistee is mentally capable of performing their National Service duties and to handle firearms," Dr Ng said.
A serviceman who is deemed unsuitable to handle firearms because of his emotional or psychological state is excused from such duties, Dr Ng added, and he will be re-deployed to vocations which do not require him to have access to weapons and live ammunition.
"Those diagnosed with mental health conditions are closely monitored while in service and, where necessary, are provided with regular medical treatment and counselling by psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and para-counsellors," the Defence Minister said.
SAF servicemen also have avenues to obtain counselling or medical assistance should they face any emotional or psychological distress, including a 24-hour SAF counselling hotline, according to Dr Ng.
He added that at the unit level, commanders interview all servicemen at regular intervals to find out if they are facing stress, including emotional or psychological problems. Commanders also undergo basic training to help them better understand mental health conditions so they can try to identify and manage servicemen with such conditions, including referring them to trained professionals for more assistance or restricting their access to weapons and ammunition.
"MINDEF and the SAF will continue to periodically review and strengthen the mental health system, in consultation with the SAF Psychiatry Specialist Advisory Board, which comprises senior psychiatrists drawn from public healthcare institutions, to ensure that all our servicemen are able to discharge their duties and at the same time, to receive good emotional and mental health care," Dr Ng said.
His comments come a few weeks after a coroner's inquiry heard that an SAF regular serviceman found dead at Sembawang Camp with a gunshot wound in 2015 was a case of suicide.