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Stigma makes it hard for people to seek help, says President Halimah on mental health

Madam Halimah discussed some of the initiatives Singapore has taken to alleviate stigma, but stressed that more can and should be done, especially in schools and workplaces

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Speaking to over 500 delegates from 24 countries, President Halimah Yacob professed with conviction that stigma and the fear of mental illness is what prevents people from seeking help and support either from private organisations, from the government, or from families and friends. She added that people are not willing to live with, live near, or work with a person who has mental health problems.

She said: “This affects their willingness to make their difficulties known, and in turn, their preparedness to seek help.”

Madam Halimah discussed some of the initiatives Singapore has taken to alleviate stigma, but stressed that more can and should be done, especially in schools and workplaces. She added that public education, inclusive workplace hiring practices and increased competencies in the healthcare and social service sector are important.

Online health assessment tool

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During her speech, Pres Halimah announced the soft launch of a new online self-administered psycho-social health assessment tool called iWorkHealth 1.0. The free diagnostic tool can help organisations and employees identify workplace stress triggers and mental health needs, so that proper interventions can be implemented.

Ms Lyn Lee, 52, one of the three-day conference’s plenary speakers, stressed the crucial role workplaces play.

In 2009, she not only lost her father, but had her marriage of 18 years end in divorce, leaving her to care for her two young daughters while juggling a high-pressure job. She said: “It got to a point where I just could not get out of bed.”

Ms Lee was later diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, a mental health condition characterised by episodes of extreme mood swings.

The Royal Dutch Shell chief diversity and inclusion officer said that with the right support, self-awareness and treatment, mental illness can be managed.

She said: “If I were in a different company where I felt like if I said something, I would lose my job, that would have been different…I probably would have continued to struggle.”

The international conference on mental health and stigma, which is in its 9th year, is Organised by the Institute of Mental Health and the National Council of Social Service, is held in South-east Asia for the first time. It started yesterday and runs till tomorrow at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre. -/TISG

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