Commentary: Expanded police powers don’t have to mean ‘three steps forward, two steps back’ for mental health in Singapore

1 month ago 53

SINGAPORE: In my 17 years as a mental health professional with experience in community psychiatry and emergency and crisis care, I’ve worked alongside dedicated colleagues and law enforcement counterparts to respond to mental health crises in the community. These are often high-risk and unpredictable, making crisis response complex.

Too often, well-intentioned interventions can escalate unnecessarily and do more harm than good. Yet, there have also been instances where families and psychiatrists strongly felt there was a likely threat, yet police officers were unable to act due to prevailing legislation.

Earlier in March, the Ministry of Home Affairs proposed a law that would give police officers more powers to apprehend “mentally disordered” people who pose a safety risk to themselves or others.

There are concerns about whether the new Law Enforcement and Other Matters Bill might inadvertently add to the stigma around mental health, by reinforcing stereotypes that those who have mental disorders are dangerous or deterring people from seeking help for fear of having a “record”.

Despite its potential challenges, I choose to focus on the opportunities it creates for collaboration and progress in mental health crisis response.

The signage outside the Institute of Mental Health. (File Photo: Calvin Oh/CNA)

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