Overall, SGMHM proposes one key policy recommendation - that a whole-of-government (WOG) approach is urgently needed to build a strong and mentally-healthy Singapore. In practice, we need a national coordinating body for mental health reporting into the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with a Minister-in-Charge. This national coordinating body should not just be a taskforce, but a full-fledged agency with dedicated resources and targets solely focused on mental wellbeing and mental health, neither should it be subsumed within integrated health as part of the Agency of Integrated Care.
We draw inspiration from the WOG strategic structure and implementation model of the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) and suggest that this national co-ordinating body may be called the Mental Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Office (MWSDO), overseen by a Ministerial Committee made up of relevant ministers e.g education, health, manpower and social & family development. Like the SNDGO, the MWSDO would allow the government to be more integrated and responsive to policies that may have implications for mental wellbeing. Also, there are several parallels between MWSD and SNDG; first, both Smart Nation and population mental health are integral parts of nation building; second, in a Smart Nation, we would see transformations across several domains such as health, transport, urban solutions, finance, and education - and we expect the same for policies addressing mental wellbeing in Singapore; third, Smart Nation involves the development of strong system foundations, which would be integral to sustainable approaches to promoting wellbeing as well.
Our report provides insight into the potential scope of policies that may be associated with mental wellbeing, which support the above proposal towards establishing the MWSDO. We have three key findings in our report.
First, our findings highlighted consensus among participants that there are indeed groups that are at greater mental health risk, which underscores the downstream impact of complex social, political, and occupational dynamics and policies that intersect to impact these groups. A MWSDO would allow us to address such complexities and develop equitable policies that span across ministries for sustainable change.
Second, our findings highlighted how participants in general felt that access, affordability, and quality of mental healthcare were still key issues that remained barriers to promoting mental well-being among Singaporeans. Those who identified with ever having mental health challenges were more likely to hold such views, therefore enhancing the validity of these sentiments. The MWSDO can be tasked with assessing such outcomes on a regular basis, and would be well-situated to be an authoritative resource on mental health-related information, mental healthcare financing, and other evidence-based resources on mental health in Singapore. This national coordinating body should also play a leading role in synthesizing best practices, and subsequently informing and coordinating the work of both government and community mental health agencies as the SNDGO does.
Third, our findings highlighted upstream factors in the promotion of mental health and well-being, such as the influence of media and policies to prevent suicide. To address these issues meaningfully, a coordinating body would be required to mobilize interest across sectors such as the media, the family and social sector, the education sector, as well as the health sector to implement mental health campaigns that are effective, and to enact policies that protect our youth and those who may be more vulnerable due to the impact of established social determinants of health such as socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and occupation. More work also needs to be done to investigate and delineate additional social determinants of mental health.
Singapore can follow the lead of countries such as Scotland, Australia, and the United Kingdom to empower a Minister and Ministry with dedicated resources to tackle this serious problem of Mental Health.
This call for a whole-of-government approach to promoting mental health and well-being is not new; calls have been made in parliament by Anthea Ong as well as SGMHM in the past. The #AreWeOkay poll reiterates the importance of such reforms, which will go a long way in alleviating suffering and optimizing mental health outcomes for Singapore to emerge stronger and build back better, and kinder as a society and economy in a new COVID-19 norm.