To raise awareness of mental health, DoctorxDentist 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.
Before we begin, here are some fast facts on mental health illness in Singapore.
- According to 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, DoctorxDentist 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 fight the stigma surrounding mental issues
Despite its prevalence, mental illness is still stigmatised in Singapore. 
However, Dr Woo says that attitudes towards mental illness have 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 s chools have with psychologists 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 about this. Dr Woo explained that the basic difference between a 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 three most common mental health conditions in Singapore
According to the second Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2016, t he 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 Woo 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 is not necessarily purely biological in nature
Environmental and situational factors can play a big part in depressed moods or lowered mood levels.
Dr Woo 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 Woo if people who suffer from depression would be able to fully recover from the condition.
Dr Woo 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 antidepressants matters.
From his experience, he has had many interesting stories of recovery of depressed clients, as well as stories of clients who have partially recovered.
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?
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 would often repeat actions like checking and rechecking locks several times over.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder has been discussed from various perspectives
Dr Woo explained that obsessive-compulsive disorder can be caused by various factors, according to the perspective taken on the issue.
- From a cognitive behavioural standpoint, obsessive-compulsive disorder is caused by the patient's thoughts about feared outcomes.
- From a trauma perspective, it is the patient's adverse childhood experiences that are giving the symptoms.
- From a biological perspective, it is the patient's chemical imbalance in the brain and the ability to regulate serotonin levels that is causing the condition.
From the perspective of interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), which is an evidence-based therapy for the treatment of bipolar disorder, people may get bipolar disorder due to a vulnerability to changes in the circadian rhythm (which is our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle).
What are the ways to control alcohol abuse/dependence?
Dr Woo 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 is a National Addiction Centre at IMH that people can go to for help.
How can you find a suitable psychologist in Singapore?
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 it
If you are suffering from a psychological condition or if you suspect that you or someone you know may be facing issues with mental illness, it is best to start looking for help as soon as possible.
Take Dr Woo's advice and consult a medical professional so you can stop things from getting worse.
DoctorxDentist'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 DoctorxDentist AMAs here.
If you are a patient or health professional who's interested in hosting an AMA to share your story, please email email@example.com. Our team will contact you with more details.