Senior Clinical Psychologist, Henny Tan, was interviewed by the popular YA YouTube channel, LadiesFirstTv (Titan Digital Media) about depression and reaching out for help. This is the first out of 3 videos to be released.
Click on the red play button to watch this 13min 37sec video.
“While the expat lifestyle can have a glamorous veneer, challenges often lie beneath. The experience of living overseas can be difficult and demanding, adding unique stressors to everyday living,” explains KRISTI MACKINTOSH, psychotherapist at Promises Healthcare, which provides holistic mental health and addiction treatment and recovery services to adults, adolescents and children suffering from all types of disorders. The clinic’s team of multidisciplinary specialists – including psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists, all with different expertise and specialisations – treat both local and expat patients on a daily basis.
In fact, studies show that expats as a group are 40 percent more likely to develop mental health conditions like depression, stress and anxiety, as compared to those who never move abroad.
“The challenging environment and less support than at home often leads to an increase in drinking, smoking, drug abuse – yes, even in Singapore – or self-harm to try and distract from the negative feelings.”
What’s more, the loss of the informal network of support from friends, family and acquaintances back home only compounds the stress and anxiety.
“Expats may often feel like they can’t share their difficulties because it seems like complaining or admitting to a failure. Isolation can lead to depression, and restrictions on travel and socialising because of COVID may have exacerbated feelings of social isolation for many expats.”
How counselling can help – and tips to cope
“It’s important to be aware of the unique set of challenges that come with expat life and ensure you’ve got a good support structure in place,” says Kristi. “One of the most important things you can do is connect. Humans are social beings. While it may require more emotional honesty or reliance on those around you than you might usually be comfortable with, connection and support from others is important.”
Additionally, you can help reduce stress by:
getting enough sleep to help regulate your mental and physical health;
eating a balanced diet to prevent deficiency in minerals that may cause low mood;
trying not to over-drink, over-eat or smoke; and
doing something that brings you joy – from reading a book to trying a new restaurant.
If you feel that you’re not coping or you’d like some extra support with your mental health, reach out to your GP or a professional counsellor or psychologist for therapy in Singapore.
#09-22/23 Novena Medical Centre, 10 Sinaran Drive
6397 7309 | promises.com.sg
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition characterised by the failure to recover from exposure to a traumatic event, bringing about intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the experience. Contrary to the widely-held belief, victims of PTSD need not necessarily experience the traumatic event first-hand – PTSD can also arise from witnessing something shocking, terrifying or disturbing. Similarly, PTSD triggers can have a broad spectrum, and the cause differs for everyone. Not everyone has to go through extreme, drastic events such as a war to develop PTSD – the condition can also be brought on by other distressing experiences such as abuse, accidents, assaults, or even adverse health or childbirth-related experiences.
How is PTSD diagnosed?
As with most other mental health disorders, clinicians use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a guideline to diagnose PTSD. The diagnostic criteria below are specific to adults, adolescents, and children older than six.
Criterion A: Stressor
The person was exposed to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, in the following way(s):
Witnessing the trauma
Learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma
Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, medics)
Criterion B: Intrusion Symptoms
The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in the following way(s):
Unwanted upsetting memories
Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders
Criterion C: Avoidance
Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Trauma-related thoughts or feelings
Trauma-related external reminders
Criterion D: Negative Alterations in Cognitions and Mood
Negative thoughts or feelings that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Inability to recall key features of the trauma
Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
Decreased interest in activities
Difficulty experiencing positive affect
Criterion E: Alterations in Arousal and Reactivity
Trauma-related arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Irritability or aggression
Risky or destructive behaviour
Heightened startle reaction
Criterion F: Duration (required)
Symptoms last for more than 1 month.
Criterion G: Functional Significance (required)
Symptoms create distress or functional impairment (e.g., social, occupational).
Criterion H: Exclusion (required)
Symptoms are not due to medication, substance use, or other illness.
In addition to meeting the criteria for diagnosis, an individual experiences high levels of either of the following in reaction to trauma-related stimuli:
Depersonalization: Experience of being an outside observer of or detached from oneself (e.g., feeling as if “this is not happening to me” or one were in a dream).
Derealization: Experience of unreality, distance, or distortion (e.g., “things are not real”).
Delayed Specification. Full diagnostic criteria are not met until at least six months after the trauma(s), although the onset of symptoms may occur immediately.
How PTSD May Go Undetected
Not all individuals will have their condition diagnosed and recorded on paper. The pervasive misconceptions about its complex cluster of symptoms can hinder one from seeking treatment, or simply realising that one may be suffering from PTSD.
In the early onset of the disorder, attempts to weather the storm by turning to short-term coping mechanisms may include binge eating or distracting themselves with their favourite TV shows. However, this is not effective – nor is it healthy – in the long run. In addition, people with comparatively “less traumatising” experiences may feel as though they did not “earn” the diagnosis, considering that others might have gone through worse. This behaviour of downplaying one’s trauma can hold them back from seeking early treatment, as it may seem more convenient to adopt the mindset that they can quickly get over it in due course. With avoidance being the hallmark of PTSD, many victims turn to therapy only after long periods of struggling with the disorder, as if therapy were the last resort. But with delayed treatment, these individuals run the risk of having to navigate symptoms that, with earlier treatment, may never have developed in the first place.
Treatment Options for PTSD
At present, the evidence-based pharmacological treatment for PTSD involves the use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which include medications such as Sertraline and Paroxetine. While there are also other medications available, these two are currently the only ones approved by the FDA for PTSD.
SSRIs play a well-recognised role in the management of mood and anxiety disorders. Their mode of action involves raising the levels of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter vital in regulating mood, anxiety, appetite, sleep, and other bodily functions.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all. While SSRIs are typically prescribed to treat PTSD, there are exceptions depending on the patient’s medical history. Clinicians will have to consider the patient’s response to the drugs, existing comorbidities, and personal preferences. As such, medications have to be tailored to each individual’s needs.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
One of the more common forms of psychotherapy, CBT aims to tackle the maladaptive thought processes and emotions associated with one’s trauma. Trauma-focused CBT involves three main categories – exposure procedures, anxiety management procedures, and cognitive therapy. These aim to help individuals understand what they’re afraid of, learn healthy and effective coping mechanisms, and work through dysfunctional thoughts.
Moreover, having a therapist or psychologist that is trauma-informed can be of great benefit. A trauma-informed therapist is knowledgeable about trauma and can understand and empathise with how the traumatic experience could have impacted the patient. Prioritising physical and emotional safety ensures a smoother clinician-client collaboration, which in turn aids in increasing the transparency and efficacy of treatment.
Eye Movement Desensitisation Therapy (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitisation Therapy may be less commonly heard, but it is an efficacious, empirically validated treatment for trauma and other adverse life experiences. In a different vein from cognitive behavioural therapy, EMDR doesn’t focus on altering a client’s thought patterns or behaviours. Instead, it relies on one’s own rapid, rhythmic eye movements, allowing the brain to process memories and resume its natural healing process. Simply put, EMDR therapy involves guiding the client towards reliving triggering experiences in short phases while the clinician directs his eye movements. When the client’s attention is diverted as they recall the traumatic event, the exposure to negative thoughts and memories is less upsetting, limiting a strong or negative psychological response.
Principles of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
In the 1800s, world-renowned English physicist Michael Faraday discovered the principles of electromagnetic induction. Fast forward to the 21st century, Faraday’s discovery was harnessed into the clinical practice of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for the treatment of mood disorders. Based on Faraday’s Law, TMS can stimulate brain neuronal circuits with tiny electrical currents induced by a changing magnetic field.
In Singapore, the practical application of TMS is employed in the form of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). In rTMS, magnetic pulses are delivered in trains at specific frequencies. “Fast” (high frequency e.g. 10Hz) stimulation increases cortical excitability for the treatment of depression. Whereas “slow” (low frequency e.g. 1Hz) stimulation reduces cortical excitability for treating anxiety disorders. Furthermore, TMS can be targeted at focused regions of the cortex for superior precision treatment of specific conditions e.g. rTMS at 1Hz to the right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) reduces intrusive obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Mood disturbances such as depression are increasingly understood as disorders of connectivity in neural networks linking cortical and subcortical grey structures of the brain. Functional brain imaging has shown dysfunction in cortical regions such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), as well as deep grey matter structures including the amygdala, nucleus accumbens, hippocampus and hypothalamus. These brain circuits are pivotal for executive functioning, regulation of emotions, reward processing and preservation of memory and cognition. They also link the nervous system to the endocrine system, which mediates the body’s response to stress.
Neuroplasticity and TMS
Evidence suggests that TMS induces neuroplastic changes in these circuits. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. TMS helps readjust neurotransmitter (e.g. serotonin and dopamine) levels in a variety of brain regions. TMS also appears to exert a neuroprotective effect on the brain. Research has shown that TMS decreases brain inflammatory factors reducing oxidative stress on the brain. TMS also boosts the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), encouraging neuronal growth in regions such as the hippocampus which is vital for learning and memory. It is postulated that the anti-depressant properties of TMS may also help in normalizing the body’s neuroendocrine stress response system.
rTMS has achieved its place on international treatment guidelines as an augmentation treatment modality to be strongly considered in treatment-resistant depression. It is reported that 30-40% of depressed patients may have inadequate responses to anti-depressant medication treatment. The direct neuronal effects of rTMS may explain why rTMS may work for this group of patients.
rTMS for OCD Treatment and other neurological disorders
In May 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the NeuroStar TMS system as an adjunct for treating adult patients suffering from OCD. Promising research is ongoing for the clinical application of TMS in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addictions, chronic pain, insomnia and many other neurological disorders.
TMS and recovery
With further advancements in TMS research and the incorporation of TMS in routine clinical practice, there is strong hope for recovery and the regaining of optimal functioning for patients afflicted by complex neuropsychiatric conditions.
1) Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Clinical Applications for Psychiatric Practice
2018 American Psychiatric Association Publishing, First Edition
2) The Science of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
William M. Sauvé, MD; and Lawrence J. Crowther, Meng
Psychiatric Annals, Vol44, No.6, 2014
3) Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation increases serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor and decreases interleukin-1b and tumour necrosis factor-a in elderly patients with refractory depression
When one has to live with debilitating chronic conditions or even degenerative disorders, it is natural that we place emphasis on seeing that the afflicted recover and receive the appropriate management. As our society rapidly ages, the number of elderly living with medical conditions or dementia is also increasing exponentially. However, the care should extend beyond the patients themselves. More often than not, there are other individuals involved, including family members and friends dedicated to supporting their recovery. Is it time we acknowledge their efforts and ensure they are coping well?
Caregiving can be exceptionally draining – both physically and emotionally – when a family member becomes a patient at home. Needless to say, we are unable to predict such unfortunate circumstances, and caregivers are often thrown into their roles without prior knowledge and preparation. This leaves them with no choice but to adapt and pick up new skills in order to commit to their caregiving responsibilities. However, this can take a toll on the primary caregiver as well as family relationships.
With a large part of their time allocated to caring for another person, caregivers are much more susceptible to fatigue and prolonged stress, with little or no time for self-care. It can be a big problem if the caregiver feels that there’s no support – family and social relationships can be compromised, thereby further reducing any support network that a caregiver can receive. This can lead to burnout and immense feelings of helplessness.
A survey by the Singapore Management University (SMU) with the support of Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL), Enable Asia and the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH), reveals that 3 in 4 caregivers are tired and exhausted caring for a person with mental health issues. Furthermore, the Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that close to 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from some form of depression. In addition, mental health disorders are even more common among dementia caregivers. A study conducted on mental health issues in those caring for Alzheimer’s patients found that the prevalence of depression was an alarming 34 percent, anxiety was 43.6 percent, and the use of psychotropic drugs was 27.2 percent.
Some other common problems that caregivers face include (but are not limited to):
Mental health concerns
Physical health concerns
High rates of negative affect including guilt, sadness, dread, irritation and worry
Ambivalence about care
Witnessing the suffering of relatives
Feeling isolated or abandoned by others
Risk of illness, injury, mortality
Adverse changes in health status
Dysregulation of stress hormones
Work/employment (e.g., reduction in work hours, family to work spillover, and work to family spillover)
Loss of time for self-care
Reduced quality of life
This is where family therapy comes in. Families might find therapy useful when they are adapting to a major change in the family such as dealing with a chronic illness or death in the family, or conflicts between family members in the caregiving process. Family therapy is a method to engage family caregivers in active and focused problem-solving approaches related to family caregiving to improve the quality of care, reduce burden and improve family functioning. Family therapy for caregivers, in particular, encompasses six core processes – naming the problem, structuring care, role structuring, role reverberations, caregiver self-care and widening the lens. Therapy is conducted in a way that is tailored to each household. Depending on the needs that caregivers and their families must address, the aspects that are challenging them will become the focus of intervention. Not covering all six areas doesn’t mean that the therapist isn’t taking a comprehensive approach – the core processes simply act as a guideline, and do not imply a rigid prescription of intervention work.
Conflicts and resentment often arise for anyone in the role of family caregiver, and these are exacerbated when trying to share tasks with siblings or other members of the family. Many a time, caregivers tend to bottle up their feelings and put up a positive front so as to avoid passing on any negative feelings to their care recipients. However, this can be extremely detrimental to their own mental and physical health in the long run. The main part of family therapy for caregivers, therefore, involves helping the caregiver and family members sort through challenging emotions and reach resolutions. Speaking about your feelings can help you find comfort, and allows you to gain further insight and through the guidance of the therapists, various emotional-coping strategies. Implementing them will certainly take some weight off your shoulders, and perhaps give you some enlightenment with regards to discovering new problem-solving strategies.
Undeniably, caregivers will benefit tremendously from any assistance in their caregiving responsibilities from family members. Family therapy is extremely beneficial in helping to improve the interactions and support network among family members, especially in providing new perspectives on problems that are seemingly unmanageable (part of which involves building trust, mutual respect and openness). This hence reduces the level of stress within the family and the level of caregiver burden, on top of enhancing communication skills and boosting a positive sense of empowerment.
Family therapy is focused on achieving precisely what is best for the whole family and its cohesiveness, and sorting out obstacles or issues challenging the family dynamics. It is important that you take the important step toward seeking help from professionals in order to achieve a better quality of life for yourself and your family.
While face-to-face consultations are the norm, we understand that as caregivers, you may be faced with time constraints or other concerns. Thankfully, with technological advancement, virtual consultations are also becoming increasingly popular. They are equally effective and allow for more individuals to connect with their family therapists with greater ease. Of course, the decision is entirely yours to make. If you find yourself struggling, or simply feel that you need a trustworthy individual to speak to, feel free to get in contact with us.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. The ubiquitous influence of the pandemic has been—and continues to be— felt by individuals globally. Many experiences the fear of being infected or infecting others, disruptions in their daily routines, social isolation, the likelihood of unemployment, financial hardship and the looming economic uncertainty (Ministry of Health Singapore, 2020). As such, there is a detrimental impact on the mental health and wellbeing of individuals, including an increased risk of suicidal behaviour.
Globally, the prevalence rates for depression and anxiety in the COVID-19 pandemic were 28.0% and 26.9% respectively (Nochaiwong et al., 2021). Factors contributing to depression and anxiety include suffering, fear or potential death, grief and financial stressors (World Health Organization, WHO 2022).
Young people have been identified as at increased risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviours (WHO, 2022). Women’s mental health, compared to men’s, has been more adversely impacted by the pandemic (WHO, 2022). In addition, people with existing medical conditions such as asthma, cancer and heart diseases, have been found to be at higher risk for developing mental health disorders (WHO, 2022).
In Singapore, a study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) (Ministry of Health Singapore, 2020) found that 8.7% of Singapore residents reported having clinical depression, 9.4% reported having clinical anxiety and 9.3% reported mild to severe stress levels. Older adults were identified as a vulnerable group, particularly, those who lived alone. Similar to the findings from WHO (2022), youths in Singapore were also identified as vulnerable to experiencing poor mental health in response to the pandemic. There is an urgency for countries to boost their mental health and psychosocial support services as part of the pandemic response plan.
According to the COVID-19 mental wellness task force, initiatives in Singapore include providing psychological support via helplines such as the National CARE hotline and a mental health help bot (‘Belle’), incorporating mental health materials in the school curriculum, fostering family resilience and supporting parents with parenting skills.
Here are some recommendations for mental health support during this pandemic:
Parents are encouraged to have conversations with their children about their children’s worries and responses to the pandemic. Parents have been found to underestimate such responses (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020). Such “talk time” can also help in trust and bond-building
Seniors can be equipped with digital skills and also expand their options for help and support i.e. the provision of telehealth counselling and support services (Brydon et al., 2022).
Health care workers can monitor their stress responses and seek assistance in relation to both their work and personal lives from a mental health professional (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020).
People can be encouraged to limit their consumption of news related to COVID-19 to once a day and to focus solely on credible news sources.
Having social interactions with family and friends and offering to help support one another during this difficult period can also be particularly beneficial.
Being outdoors and exercising are good habits for maintaining healthy wellbeing.
As restrictions are slowly easing around the world, it can also be challenging for most people to adjust back to when restrictions were first introduced (during lockdowns). With new changes and uncertainty, being mindful of one’s mental health and well-being is crucial. For example, larger social gatherings (e.g. group of 10) may seem overwhelming at first, therefore it is important for people to recognise their anxiety levels related to social gatherings.
Here are some suggestions that might help regulate your emotions as you enter this new season of Singapore opening up amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic (Black Dog Institute, 2022):
Gradually, increase your time spent in a larger social gathering at your own pace.
You can also start to focus on things that are within your ability and control. For instance, you can engage in different relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and focusing on being in the present in order to better cope with your stress levels (American Psychological Association, 2021).
it can be useful to discuss reasonable adjustments back to work with your managers such as flexible working arrangements and other training opportunities in order to increase work efficacy
Seek professional help if there are concerns regarding stress levels related to the easing of restrictions.
It is particularly evident that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the well-being of Singaporeans and the rest of the world. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health and wellbeing and there is an urgent call for countries worldwide to provide people with mental health and psychosocial support to help them maintain psychological wellness.
Some Local Helplines and support:
National CARE hotline (8am-8pm daily): 1800-202-6868
Brydon, A., Bhar, S., Doyle, C., Batchelor, F., Lovelock, H., Almond, H., Mitchell, L., Nedeljkovic, M., Savvas, S., & Wuthrich, V. (2022). National Survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Australian Residential Aged Care Residents and Staff. Clinical Gerontologist, 45(1), 58-70.https://doi.org/10.1080/07317115.2021.1985671
Nochaiwong, S., Ruengorn, C., Thavorn, K., Hutton, B., Awiphan, R., Phosuya, C., Ruanta, Y., Wongpakaran, N., & Wongpakaran, T. (2021). Global prevalence of mental health issues among the general population during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 10173. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89700-8