How To Get HELP For Mental Illness In Singapore – By Expat Andrea McKenna Brankin

There is always hope.
02 October 2019

I write about mental health to give others hope.

Hope that you don’t have to suffer. Hope that you can have a better life with proper treatment. I write about hope because what is the other option? Despair? Not cool. That’s no way to live.

If you are struggling with mental health issues, even minor ones, perhaps you are afraid to seek help. I don’t want you to be afraid. People are afraid to be stigmatised, called crazy, treated unfairly, lose their family, jeopardise their job, etc… Trust me because I’m living it; I have bipolar disorder. I have been there and done that, so please listen: There is no shame in needing mental health support. I believe in speaking out so others do not feel stigmatised by mental illness. So if you feel alone with this issue, know that I am with you.

With that in mind, I would like to provide some resources for you to consider if you need mental health treatment or just some temporary support. After all, we are all under stress for one thing or another. And stress triggers mental distress, via anxiety, anger issues, panic, depression, and other feelings, such as not wanting to leave the house or perhaps always thinking something bad is going to happen (like a plane flying into your building—a real fear for some with massive anxiety).

A good indicator to decide if and when you need help is to determine if your mental state is keeping you from functioning in your life. Are you eating enough? Are you showering? Are you sleeping? Are you eating or drinking too much? Are you spending exorbitant amounts of money? Are you arguing all the time? Are you crying a lot? Do you have irrational thoughts or fears that interfere with tasks or decision-making? We all have bad days, but these symptoms, if they go on for more than a few weeks, demonstrate true mental suffering. If you can’t get things done or you are struggling to get through normal days, then it’s time to look at your mental hygiene and take some action. You don’t have to suffer.

If you or someone you know needs help, please consider these sources.

For suicidal tendencies–including having a plan, giving up on life, feeling like there is no other alternative, or just feeling totally overwhelmed with life – please call the Samaritans of Singapore at 1-800-221-4444. This is a 24-hour suicide hotline and it is the only one available here in Singapore. You can also email them at pat@sos.org.sg. These people are trained to treat you with dignity and compassion. They understand.

If you know someone who may be suicidal, do not shame, judge or belittle them into NOT feeling that way. This is the wrong way to act. Period. Suggest help. Offer to take them to the A&E. Be a friend. Do take it seriously because, even though they may not “have the guts to go through with it”, it is still indicative of mental duress to even TALK about suicide. It is a clear cry for help. So help.  

For general psychiatric support for issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, etc… try a psychiatrist at your preferred medical centre. That is the doctor that can give you medication to help ease your symptoms. This is not a psychologist, who works on your behaviour and your thought processes. Most hospitals in Singapore, such as Raffles and Mount E, have a find-a-doctor system from which you can choose a practitioner and make an appointment.

A general practitioner can also either prescribe proper meds or refer you to a psychiatric specialist. It is my experience that you want the specialist because they better understand mental illness and treatment options. However, if you have a good relationship with your GP or another doctor, then go with your gut feeling. I had a great OB/GYN, who understood mental illness and referred me to a fabulous psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth while I was going through my pregnancy here. I still see her today.

If you want to talk it out, try talk therapy—called psychotherapy—which can help provide relief from symptoms. Just having a professional, outside person listen to you can firstly, take the stress off your immediate friends and family, and secondly, can give you a rational perspective that you may not get from your regular support system. A group like SACAC Counselling, which operates an office out of the American Club, specialises in expat psychological issues, such as moving to a new place, a new school, or being a trailing spouse and feeling isolated. I have seen them a few times.

The Singapore Psychological Society offers some good information about the different types of psychologists and what they do. It also has a link to a registry of psychologists here in Singapore, which is a valuable resource.

For others, you can Google “psychologists in Singapore” and a comprehensive list comes up. I don’t want to name any more here because I have not been to them. You have to do some research and find a practitioner that is right for you. Having said that, I know that finding a doctor or counsellor can be the most daunting part of seeking help. I tried several times for several years before I settled on my current psychotherapist, who has significant experience in treating my bipolar condition. (I used to cry because I would call and no one would pick up the phone or they didn’t do bipolar disorder, so believe me, I understand these roadblocks! Keep trying.)

If doing all this seems like too much, ask a friend or family member to help you. My sister, who lives in the U.S., got online and helped me finally find someone here. The Internet is your friend. Use it. And if you spend time seeking out the best prices for groceries, surely you can take this time to support your mental health. No more excuses.

The bottom line is this: Help is out there. And if you need support, know I am at least one person here in Singapore who is on your side. You can do this. There is always hope.

By Finder Blogger: Andrea McKenna, May 2016 / Updated October 2019 

About Andrea McKenna Brankin

Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.

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