Xav: Singapore Mental Health Conference Day 2

As mentioned in the first post by Jon, this year's Singapore Mental Health Conference theme is Empowerment for Resilience & Recovery. Do check out Jon's post to find out more about SMHC Day 1.

Day 2 was another day of interesting talks by individuals from all walks of life, who are associated with the mental health field in one way or another. However, what's different is that participants would be split into various tracks of different topics; talks within each track would be based on the topic of the track. However, before we were split into the different tracks, we were gathered in a common hall, and graced by the presence of Professor Fatimah Lateef who talked about mental health on a community level and the importance of national agenda in mental health. What struck me the most was when Professor Fatimah shared how TCM could be adopted in mental health treatments by alleviating side symptoms of Western medication. Coming from 2 different etiologies, people often see Western medicine and Chinese medicine as noncomplementary so this was an interesting learning point for me.


Next, we were split into our tracks. Interested in mental health within a community setting, as well as the link between physical health and mental health, I signed up for Track 3 and Track 5 during registration. The topic of Track 3 is "Beyond Institution into Integrated Community Living" while the topic for Track 5 is "Integration between Mental Health & Physical Health". As I only attended these 2 tracks, this post would unfortunately, be solely based on them but I do hope it gives you more insights on community efforts on mental health and the mind-body connection.

Track 3: Beyond Institution into Integrated Community Living
The first session was on "multi-agency approach to hoarding". The talk by Mr Ji Min Sheng, Ms Lim Lea Lea, Dr Tan Weng Mooi and Ms Wang Yu Hsuan explained how different professionals- from those in the social service sector to those in the Housing Development Board- would come together to resolve an issue of hoarding. Speakers emphasised how the issue is multi-faceted and that resolving the issue is not as simple as removing clutter; it is important for the experts involved to build rapport with the individual to eventually diagnose the root cause of hoarding behaviour. Moving on, Mr Kenneth Ng spoke about supporting individuals with mental health conditions at a community level. Mr Ng spoke more about his organisation, Fei Yue and the various programmes by Fei Yue that help better support individuals with mental health conditions. From outreach to caregiver support, Fei Yue tries to identify individuals who are at-risk, while at the same time building a connection with those who have already been diagnosed. Next, Dr Wong Mei Yin spoke more about the role of mental health in primary care. She reiterated how imperative it was for healthcare professionals to detect early signs, encourage treatment and educate individuals with mental health conditions. As part of the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, she explained how polyclinics now handle cases where individuals have mild to moderate severity. Quick assessments such as the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 are given to help the physician gauge the level of severity. 

The second session is on "building communities of care". A/Professor Dr Reshma A. Merchant was the first to speak in this session. A researcher on frailty and dementia, she compared both constructs and explained the relationship between frailty and dementia. While frailty predicts rapid cognitive decline, Dr Reshma elucidated how this decline is reversible and how HAPPY (Healthy Ageing Promotion Programme for You) helps the elderly to get more active, delaying the process of memory decline induced by ageing. After Dr Reshma's sharing, Reverend Irene Thung spoke about building wellness of seniors in a church setting. As a psychology student, I have learnt how faith and beliefs can shape a person's inclination to seek treatment. This talk highlighted the importance of religious institutions in encouraging help-seeking behaviours and how essential it is for religious organisations to work with mental health organisations. As church goers may see members of the church as role models or confidantes, Reverend Irene accentuated how it was important for reverends and pastors to guide individuals with mental health conditions to appropriate health avenues. 

Track 5: Integration between Mental Health & Physical Health
Session one of Track 5 was by Dr John Wang, a sports psychologist who talked about "building mental skills through sports". He gave a brief summary on what sports psychology is- explaining the process of FLOW (by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) and how good physical condition and mental preparation are important in sports. He concluded by highlighting the importance of mindset in building mental resilience. 

Session two was by Ms Jodee Kua, a peer support specialist who shared her story of her struggle with mental health and what helps her to cope better. She spoke with the audience how dance, a passion of her has helped us to overcome tough days and it was clear to me that having a passion or favourite hobby could be cathartic for an individual struggling with their mental health. Her talk was inspiring, reflected by the thunderous applause by the audience after she finished speaking.

Closing Plenary: Art of Determination
The closing talk was apt as it concluded the whole two days of talks through exemplifying the willpower of the human spirit. Dr Darren Chua of Mindset Transformation Clinic shared with us his story- a promising doctor at aged 24, he was struck by a stroke and lost the stable use of his limbs, thus being robbed away of his dream to be a neurosurgeon. Through perseverance, Dr Darren endeavoured through physical therapy and introspection and now hopes to inspire others to find hope in seemingly dire situations. At the end, during the Q&A session, many people asked him questions about his experience, as well as took the time to compliment him- it is apparent that his speech had left a huge mark on the audience. 

Although SMHC was only held for two days, the talks were meaningful and informative, educating me, a psychology student, on the recovery approach towards mental health. Truthfully, it was the first conference I have attended and I definitely look forward to attending the next one. 

I encourage psychology students interested in Clinical Psychology or clinical research to attend the annual conference as it opens your eyes to the application of theories beyond what you learn in the textbook, and helps you to recognise the important names within the field which could be crucial for future networking.