singapore More GPs to treat patients with mental health conditions

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SINGAPORE — When Goh Sher Jing was 14, her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. The teenager, the middle among three daughters, became the main caregiver at home.

School went by in a blur. She would attend classes but absorbed little of what was taught. She started cutting herself, and the self-harm would increase whenever her mother's doctor told the family that her condition had taken a turn for the worse.

Five years later, her mother died, and Goh's struggles in dealing with her mother's illness and her loss took a huge mental toll.

"When my mum passed away, I started to have suicidal thoughts and I tried to kill myself," Goh told The Straits Times in a recent interview. She is now 26 and works in a retail store.

For years, she kept it to herself and lived with insomnia and a poor mood. It was not until 2023 that she sought help from a general practitioner (GP) whom a friend recommended.

The GP, Dr Yap Siong Yew of Cashew Medical & Surgery in Bukit Panjang, spent 15 to 30 minutes with her during the first consultation, and diagnosed that she was suffering from depression, Goh said.

"He gave me medication… and a book to write down how I felt every day. He wants me to release the emotions that are occupying me every day," she said.

Until that visit, Goh thought help was available only at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) or from expensive private psychiatrists.

But more patients like her are finding out that help may be just minutes away at their neighbourhood primary care doctor.


According to the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), nearly 420 GPs have joined the national mental health-GP partnership programme to support patients with mental health issues since it was established in 2012. This figure is up from 122 in May 2016 and about 220 three years ago.

The network includes the 137 GPs under an older mental health-GP partnership programme at IMH, which refers stable patients to GPs in the community.

That started as a pilot in 2003, led by Dr Alvin Lum, a GP who is now the deputy director of the programme at IMH, and Professor Chong Siow Ann, a senior consultant psychiatrist at IMH. The institute has referred more than 3,700 patients to GPs in the network.

All Singaporeans are eligible for Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) subsidies when they visit Chas GPs participating in the programme to seek treatment for major depression, anxiety disorders (including obsessive-...

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