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
- Samaritans of Singapore (24 hours): 1-767
- IMH Mental Health Helpline (24 hours): 6389-2222
- Mental health help bot (‘Belle’): https://www.ncss.gov.sg/our-initiatives/beyond-the-label/belle-beyond-the-label-helpbot
Black Dog Institute (2022). Coping with anxiety about COVID-19 restrictions easing. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/coping-with-anxiety-about-covid-19-restrictions-easing/
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
Ministry of Health Singapore (2020). COVID-19 Mental Wellness Taskforce Report. https://www.moh.gov.sg/docs/librariesprovider5/covid-19-report/comwt-report.pdf
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
Pfefferbaum, B., & North, C.S. (2020). Mental health and the Covid-19 pandemic. The New England Journal of Medicine, 383:510-512, 291-299. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2008017
World Health Organization (2022, March 12) COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide