SG Mental Health Matters (SGMHM) was founded in 2020 by a group of friends and volunteers with the aim to conduct a public consultation to support the Budget and COS debates on mental healthcare accessibility, affordability and quality for Ms Anthea Ong as a Nominated Member of Parliament.
Following Ms Ong’s step down as an NMP in 2020, the group has since evolved into a community-led initiative that seeks to educate the public on mental health policies.
Currently, SGMHM comprises mental health and public health researchers, mental health practitioners, and advocates with lived experience in mental health. Their website http://www.sgmentalhealthmatters.com provides a platform for their advocacy efforts.
Starting from January 2022, SGMHM launched a new initiative called #SGMHMPolicyWatch, which aims to monitor the filing of parliamentary questions (PQs) related to mental health policies by Members of Parliament (MPs).
The project, led by a team of mental health researchers, including Dr. Rayner Tan, conducted a review of all Order Papers from the year 2022 to retrieve mental health-related PQs, which included direct or indirect mentions of mental health. Indirect mentions include raising issues that may be related to mental health when viewed through an intersectional lens, including the general well-being of vulnerable communities identified in the SGMHM public consultation 2021, such as the elderly, LGBTQ+ individuals, migrant workers, etc.
In Part I of the #SGMHMPolicyWatch Report that has just been published, SGMHM provides a snapshot of the PQs filed by MPs in the year 2022.
The team only included PQs that included explicit keywords such as ‘mental’ (includes ‘mental well-being’, ‘mental health’, ‘mental capacity’, etc.), ‘psychological’, ‘psychology’, ‘psychiatric’, ‘psychiatry’, and ‘psychiatrist’. The team also included supplementary questions fielded by MPs in the PQ count.
The team collated all eligible PQs and extracted data on the month that the PQ was raised in Parliament, the ministry that the PQ was addressed to, and the MP raising the PQ.
The team’s analysis found that a total of 59 PQs were filed in 2022 that were directly related to mental health.
Mental health-related PQs were asked every month when Parliament had a sitting, but peaked in January 2022 and October 2022. The Ministry of Health (MOH) received the most PQs, but a majority of PQs were still filed with other ministries.
PQs were filed by MPs from all political parties, including nominated MPs (NMPs). Dr. Wan Rizal (n=9, 15.3%), Dr. Shahira Abdullah (n=6, 10.2%), and Ms. Nadia Ahmad Samdin (n=5, 8.5%) filed the most PQs with a direct and explicit reference to mental health. Most PQs were filed by first-term MPs (n=40, 67.8%), with MPs from various constituencies filing mental health-related PQs. However, MPs from some constituencies were underrepresented.
The report also notes that while only 2.3% of PQs directly referenced mental health, there may have been more questions that were indirectly related to mental health.
SGMHM has recommended two measures to enhance mental health policymaking in Singapore.
Firstly, the initiative has suggested establishing a permanent mental health office under the Prime Minister’s office. This is in response to the finding that most of the parliamentary questions related to mental health were addressed to other ministries, rather than the Ministry of Health, highlighting the need for governance around mental health issues to lie in a centralised office.
Secondly, it proposed directing mental health advocacy and literacy efforts towards all parliamentarians, given the prevalence of mental health issues across all ages of the population. These measures are aimed at building a mentally healthy nation beyond a taskforce under MOH.
Part II of the report, which will be available next month, covers the indirect PQs that relate to mental health as well as examining more deeply on the geographic distribution of MPs asking mental health PQs.