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Mental health and loneliness in Singapore

This week: There's an increasing prevalence of poor mental health in Singapore. Does that surprise anyone? 😔

I don’t know if it was because I was a little preoccupied this week with Mekong Review editing—our November issue is going to layout soon—but it feels like there wasn’t anything particularly earth-shaking news-wise over the past week? (Apart from the disposal of a WWII-era bomb, of course, which literally shook some earth.) But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it’s an opportunity to slow down a bit and do a little more reflecting.

Hearts and minds

It’s sad but not surprising to find that there’s an increasing prevalence of poor mental health in Singapore. Unless you are fabulously rich, rich enough to buy yourself out of lots of problems, our city can be such a stressful place to live in. We’ve recently seen reports about costs—for water, transport, electricity and gas—going up again. This is happening in a period of high inflation, and real wages have only grown by 0.4%. That all this combined causes hardship for many Singaporean households—particularly those who are still struggling to recover from the economic blows of the Covid-19 pandemic—cannot be denied, and the government is responding to this by announcing a new $1.1 billion cost-of-living support package. The cash, CDC vouchers and rebates might cushion the blow a little bit, but, as pointed out by the Minimum Income Standards team who presented their latest report a couple of weeks ago, these one-off or temporary support measures aren’t enough to address long-term issues that keep people from being able to meet basic needs and live a life that would allow them to flourish.

This is not to say that all the problems with mental health stem from money and the economy. But I think it’s probably fair to say that, for many adult Singaporeans, money and costs feature strongly in the cast of stressors that we encounter from day-to-day. Then there are other anxieties that affect different demographics: exam stress, stress over future employment after graduation, stress over current employment, exhaustion from job obligations or long working hours, worries about whether one’s children are keeping up with other kids in school, worries about conforming to particular societal expectations and demands, the loss of spaces that were once familiar and comforting haunts, climate anxiety, discrimination, loneliness and isolation… the list goes on.

The silver lining is that it seems as if more Singaporeans are also becoming more willing to seek help, whether it’s from professionals or from informal support networks like friends and family. Again, this varies by demographic—the older generation was found to be less willing than younger Singaporeans to reach out, and older retired men are more at risk of loneliness and isolation—but it’s good that there appears to be a gradual shift in the way mental health and mental health support is perceived. In fact, younger adults are much more open to going for therapy (paywall), and even see it as a ‘green flag’ in partners.

Still, we can’t just all go to therapy without thinking about the need for structural change. Firstly, therapy is expensive, and not everyone has the time, money or resources to go see a therapist. While therapy is helpful, it’s not substitute for things like a living wage, nor is it a long-term solution to surviving in a society that tends to deal with conflict or problems with a punitive approach that leaves people fearful and anxious.

Were you at the SG Climate Rally?

I dropped by the SG Climate Rally last weekend, along with over 1,400 other Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (again, due to stupid rules, foreigners were not allowed to enter the park). The organisers made it clear that climate action isn’t just about reusable straws and cutting down on plastic bags, but about making much deeper, structural changes to break away from exploitative capitalist modes of operation and create more equal societies that aren’t driven by corporate greed. There were a range of community booths featuring civil society groups like Workers Make Possible, Migrant Mutual Aid and (yes!) the Transformative Justice Collective. It felt good to feel like we’re all in it together, and that we’re not operating in silos on our respective causes.

More and more and more laws

The prospect of more laws to regulate the internet and deal with online harms has been floated (again). It’s true that there’s a lot of harmful shit out there, like cyberstalking and harassment and sextortion. Singapore is far from the only country wondering how to deal with it. But following the experiences of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act and POFMA and FICA, I’ve grown very wary of the shape that such “legal protections” could take. Despite what the government has claimed, we’re not very good at balancing control and regulation with civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.

There are lots of people out there doing great work on internet safety and online freedoms; there are many voices in the international civil society community who have a lot to share. Some books you might find interesting if you like thinking about internet governance and freedom of expression:

On the radar

I’ve been enjoying our Passion Procrastination newsletter so much that the danger is writing too much for it. But it’s such fun because it’s so different from the sort of writing and editing that I do from day-to-day as part of my job or my activism. The last issue I wrote for this fun newsletter was about SKZ Family, an extremely chaos-laden concept within the web variety content produced by my favourite K-pop group, Stray Kids. If you want to let you brain cells go on a bit of a holiday after reading this newsletter about Singapore, maybe you can choose this as a vacation destination. And my fellow procrastinator Peiying also wrote a review of her all-time favourite c-drama!

Thank you for reading! If you're joining us for the democracy classroom tonight at Book Bar, I'll see you there!

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