Before we begin, here are some fast facts on mental health illness in Singapore.
- According a study by IMH, 1 in 6 people suffer from some form of mental illness. 
- Depression, alcohol abuse, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are the top 3 most common disorders in Singapore. 
- About 10% of the population in Singapore suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders. 
- Out of this, 6% have depression, 0.9% have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), and 3% have Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 
The statistics above are quite alarming, given the fact that mental health is not an illness that is very talked about in Singapore. Most people with mental health issues suffer in silence, and this can affect their relationship with their families and their work performance.
To raise awareness for mental health, DxD invited Dr Matthew Woo, a Singapore registered clinical psychologist to host an AMA session. He has been helping mental health patients for almost 19 years!
He shared a lot of personal insights and advice to help you better understand trauma, stress, anxiety and mood-related disorders. Here are some things you should pay attention to.
School counsellors help improve stigma surrounding mental issues
Despite its prevalence, mental illness is still stigmatised in Singapore. 
However, Dr Matthew says that it has significantly improved compared to 25 years ago, when he started work as a psychologist.
He attributes this to the counsellors in school. These days, most (maybe all) schools have with psychologist or counsellors. Thus, the students are used to counselling as a way to cope with problems, which helps with removing the stigma about mental illnesses.
You may be surprised at how open younger children are to psychology interventions and care!
The key difference between psychologists and psychiatrists
People often get confused with this. Dr Matthew explained that the basic difference between psychologist and psychiatrist is this:
- A psychologist treats symptoms and mental health conditions with interventions and programs.
- A psychiatrist, being a trained medical doctor, with specialty training in psychiatry, treats mental health conditions with medications.
The 3 most common mental health conditions in Singapore
According to the second Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2016 found that the 3 most common mental health conditions are:
- Mood disorders - depression and bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders - OCD and generalised anxiety disorder
- Alcohol use disorders - alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence
Seeing a psychologist in Singapore costs from $$40 - $300
In public hospitals, the fee to see a psychologist will typically be between $40 and $120
Alternatively, psychologists in private practice can charge between $120 and $300.
Can you claim medisave or insurance for seeing a psychologist in Singapore?
From his experience, some of his patients have insurance that allows them to see psychologists in private practice for a limited number of sessions. However, these patients are typically expatriates, and are usually not from the local Singaporean population.
Do anti-depressants work for patients with mood disorders?
The short answer is yes, but Dr Matthew notes that it also depends on the profile of side effects the patient is experiencing.
Anti-depressants like Fluoxetine (Prozac) can work, however, some patients may opt for psychotherapy to supplement their medication.
Depression isn't necessarily purely biological in nature
Environmental and situational factors can play a big part in depressed moods or lowered mood levels.
Dr Matthew believes that seeing situations in a different light can cause changes in behaviour and mood levels.
Will people with depression ever fully recover?
A reader asked Dr Matthew if people who suffer from depression would be able to fully recover from the condition.
Dr Matthew attributes 'complete recovery' to a couple of factors. He believes that the level of motivation, the idiosyncratic response of the client to a particular brand of therapy, and the response to anti depressants matters.
From his experience, he has had many interesting stories of recovery for my depressed clients, as well as stories of clients who have partially recovered.
What is OCD?
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition where you have persistent and irrational thoughts, impulses or images that cause anxiety or distress like an overwhelming fear of germs and dirt. 
You'd often repeat actions like checking and rechecking locks several times over.
OCD can be developed from various perspectives
Dr Matthew explained that OCD can be caused by various factors.
- From a cognitive behavioural standpoint, OCD is caused by your throughs about feared outcomes that is causing the problems.
- From a trauma perspective, it's your adverse childhood experiences that is giving the symptoms.
- From a biological perspective, it is your chemical imbalance in the brain, a regulation of serotonin levels, that is causing the condition.
People get bipolar because
What are the ways to control alcohol abuse/dependence?
Dr Matthew practices a brand of therapy called the Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) to help desensitise individuals to urges for alcohol.
EMDR is good to desensitise (decrease) the range of negative emotions in response to emotional triggers.
Alternatively, there's a National Addiction Centre at IMH that people can go to for help.
How to find a suitable psychologist?
In psychotherapy terms, most people base their choice of counsellor or psychotherapist on the rapport or 'therapeutic alliance'.
This basically translates to:
- "Can my psychotherapist understand what I am saying?"
- "Do I feel comfortable enough to share my problems so that we can work towards a solution together?"
Other factors include the psychotherapy fees, the general liking, and respect for the psychotherapist's expertise.
How can you help someone in denial of their mental illness?
If the person is significantly impaired with regards to capacity for work, social relationships and daily routines, this situation may be severe enough to be considered mental illness.
In such cases, you can persuade them to seek help by pointing out that a professional can help resolve the issues they are facing.
Consider getting a friend from the same faith as him/her to reach out. This may help especially if the afflicted person is in denial.
Seek help if you need
If you’re suffering from a psychological condition or if you suspect that you or someone you know may be facing issues with mental illness, it’s best that you start looking for help as soon as possible.
Take Dr Matthew’s advice and consult a medical professional so you can stop things from getting worse.
DxD’s Ask Me Anything (AMA) enables open health conversations between readers, health professionals and patients from all walks of life. View the complete list of upcoming DxD AMAs here.
If you are a patient or health professional who's interested in hosting an AMA to share your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team will contact you with more details.