DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Mental Health Festival and Launch of the Mental Health Public Education Campaign

SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam | 8 September 2018

Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at the Mental Health Festival and Launch of the Mental Health Public Education Campaign at the Institute of Mental Health on 8 September 2018.


Mdm Kay Kuok, Chairman, National Healthcare Group
Ms Anita Fam, President, National Council of Social Service
Prof Chua Hong Choon, Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Mental Health
Mr Fong Yong Kian, Chief Executive, Tote Board
Distinguished Guests, Partners, Colleagues and Friends

I am very happy to be here with all of you to celebrate the Institute of Mental Health’s (IMH) 90th anniversary.

90 Years of Mental Healthcare

It has been a transformational journey for IMH, and for Singapore, because the way we accept and help those around us with mental health conditions has evolved significantly over the years – as we have learnt a lot more about mental health conditions, and a lot more about how we can best help those with such conditions. 

When IMH began in 1928 - as The Mental Hospital in Yio Chu Kang  -  awareness of mental health conditions was very low, and persons with mental health conditions were often shunned. They lived at the margins of society, or were institutionalised for life. It was still that way after the hospital was renamed Woodbridge Hospital in 1951.

So it has in fact been a long and arduous journey to steer away from the strongly entrenched stigma associated with mental illness. When we made the strategic move to relocate the hospital to its current site in Buangkok, and to rename it again as the Institute for Mental Health (IMH), it was more than a change in site and name. The IMH has become a different institution, in a different ecosystem for mental health.

IMH has not only evolved in its care services. It has also had a growing role in mental health research and specialist education for mental health professionals. And we have made a clear transition from an institutional care model to a community-based model, focusing on early detection and intervention, rehabilitation, as well as continued care and support in the community.

So the IMH is now very much part of a broader ecosystem of programmes and partners, to provide support for those with mental health conditions.

The Government has enhanced access to mental health services in the primary care and community settings, so as to encourage people to seek help in a non-stigmatising environment. These include the Community Mental Health Masterplan, in which our polyclinics and GP clinics offer mental health and dementia services. There are eight polyclinics offering such services today. And 140 GPs have been trained to diagnose and support persons with mental health conditions in the community. Another example is IMH’s Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT), which is sited at *SCAPE, and aimed especially at helping youth with mental health conditions.

The IMH also works with partners to put in place programmes in people’s daily settings. For instance, the Ministry of Education and Health Promotion Board (HPB) have such programmes in our mainstream schools and Institutes of Higher Learning, and HPB runs workshops for managers to create a supportive workplace environment. We have also incorporated education on mental health in the National Seniors' Health Programme, with workshops to equip seniors with the knowledge and skills to manage their mental wellbeing and help those close to them. In the last financial year, over 300 mental health talks were delivered as part of this Programme, and attended by over 6,000 participants.

Improving Mental Health Awareness and Literacy

To promote understanding of mental health, IMH and its partners have also organised events and public forums, such as the Voice Out! Concert in the Park in October last year.

NCSS has also made the Mental Health Public Education Grant available to all social service organisations, to rally more community providers to introduce new programmes on mental health. Several innovative projects have been supported under this Grant. For example, Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre Community Services and Care Corner Singapore are using virtual reality technology to help members of the public step into the shoes of a person in recovery, and gain insights into his or her mental health struggles.

We will need to keep up such efforts, and keep building empathy in Singapore. As part of its 90th anniversary, IMH is organising a mental health festival to raise awareness of mental wellness. There will be forums on mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, workshops for caregivers, mindfulness workshops for adults and children, as well as sharing sessions and booths run by persons in recovery. 

NCSS, in collaboration with IMH and with support from Tote Board, and other community partners, will also be launching a new anti-stigma campaign today, entitled “Beyond the Label”. The social stigma surrounding mental health conditions is a major barrier to people seeking help. And tackling this stigma is critical to help those of us with mental health conditions on the path to recovery, and as early as possible.

We should never reduce people to stereotypes and labels. We should look understand those with mental health conditions as individuals, and know them for who they are. It could be any of us, at some point in our lives. We all have a part to play to go “Beyond the Label”.   

As part of the campaign, NCSS has developed a conversation tool, which community partners will use in their outreach efforts, to spread the message through frank and meaningful conversations on mental health. There are also Campaign Ambassadors who will be helping to spread the message. Let me share the stories of two such Ambassadors.

Ms Nicole Kay, who was diagnosed with depression in 2006, wanted a platform to share her stories and encourage others to share theirs. She started The Tapestry Project SG, which features more than 140 articles contributed by fellow persons in recovery, as well as their caregivers. Ms Kay has also launched a social enterprise, which runs customised writing workshops for those contributing to The Tapestry Project, on the proper techniques of journaling to deal with their thoughts and emotions, and to help them build self-awareness. The workshops have been conducted for IMH and Singapore Association for Mental Health, among others.

Mr Nicholas Patrick is another Campaign Ambassador. He struggled with depression for more than 10 years, before fully recovering from the condition last year. But when Nicholas tried to re-integrate into society, he found it difficult to do so, and also had trouble finding the right resources to help him in this process. So Nicholas went ahead and set up Ekho Academy, an online learning portal where people with depression can find out how to better manage their day to day social interactions, and form a supportive community to help one another. Nicholas is passionate about promoting the cause of hiring persons in recovery, and is exploring outreach opportunities with different employers.

The experiences of Nicole and Nicholas show us that persons in recovery from mental health conditions can lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. I hope these stories will make all of us more aware of our own biases, and how we unconsciously label others in our interactions with them. Only when we actively reject such attitudes and mindsets can we create a truly supportive environment for them  -  and one that encourages them to seek help early.


In closing, let me congratulate and thank all IMH’s staff, volunteers and partners for your commitment to this cause. The journey to recovery from mental health conditions can be long and challenging. But if we make a conscious effort to look “Beyond the Label”, and build a community that empathises with and supports each and every individual with mental health conditions, and their families, we will be better people and a better society.

I wish you a meaningful day at the Festival and all the best in the journey ahead!