Young Adults’ Mental Health In Singapore Need Urgent Attention

A new survey shines a light on the rates of depression and anxiety among Singapore’s youth.

AsianScientist (May. 31, 2023) –Mental health of young adults undoubtedly took an unprecedented toll from social isolation, mandatory distance learning and increased use of social media during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Results from a recent survey of parents have revealed alarming rates of depression and anxiety among Singaporean youth, accompanied by an overbearing economic strain. These findings, published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, show an urgent need for transformative measures to improve mental healthcare for children and young adults.

Even before the pandemic, several countries had witnessed a doubling in rates of depression and anxiety among their youth over the past decade. These conditions often permeate into their academic performance, tendency in engaging in risky behaviors and vulnerability to substance abuse.

“The real effects of untreated mental health conditions among youth will extend well into adulthood when they are less able to obtain rewarding and high-paying jobs due to poor school performance and other challenges resulting from their illness,” said Professor Eric Finkelstein, a health economist from Duke-NUS’ Health Services & Systems Research (HSSR) program and senior author of the study.

In efforts to drive policies that would prioritize treatment and prevention measures, Finkelstein and his team at Duke-NUS Medical School and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), set out to obtain current estimates of the prevalence and economic impact of depression and anxiety among young individuals in Singapore.

Between April and June 2022, the survey used an existing web panel to request 991 parents to complete the PHQ-4 screening questionnaire on behalf of 1,515 youth. This preliminary screening survey identified 104 parents with children, aged 7 to 21, who exhibited symptoms consistent with depression and anxiety. These parents were then invited to participate in a more extensive survey, which included questions about school absences, school performance, and healthcare utilization.

Based on the responses, 11.7% of the youth displayed symptoms indicative of depression, while 12.8% exhibited symptoms consistent with anxiety. Collectively, 16.2% of the youth showed symptoms suggestive of at least one of these conditions. The parents reported that these youth missed an average of 190 hours—or 24 days—of school due to their mental health conditions and had a noticeable decline in their performance in both school and daily activities.

Despite these numbers, 84.8% of these young individuals did not have a formal diagnosis of either condition, suggesting that the majority of them remained untreated. This led to 64% of them having to pay an unplanned visit to the emergency department or needing in-patient services. According to the survey, the parents spent an average of S$10,250 on medical care while at the population level, the estimated annual costs associated with these conditions amounted to a significant S$1.2 billion.

“The results from our study show that greater outreach efforts are needed to encourage both children and adults to take advantage of the many avenues to obtain mental health treatments in Singapore,” said Assistant Professor Irene Teo from Duke-NUS’ HSSR program and co-author of the study.

The authors highlighted that the rates of untreated Singaporean youth facing these mental health conditions are likely underreported in this study. This may have been largely attributed to relying on proxy responses from parents who may be unaware of their child’s symptoms or uncomfortable disclosing them due to the stigma tied to mental health. Expressing concern about the extent of this issue, the authors stressed the importance of coordinated efforts across ministries to take meaningful steps to remove barriers to receiving improved and timely mental health treatment for the youth.

Finkelstein added, “Along with greater access to evidence-based treatments, we should be implementing screening programs for both children and adults to identify mental health conditions early, make better use of peer support programs and increase efforts to destigmatize mental health. With the high prevalence and costs of mental illness among both children and adults, a successful mental health strategy should take on the same level of urgency as Singapore’s War on Diabetes.”


Source: Duke-NUS Medical School ; Image: Unsplash

The article can be found at Healthcare utilization and costs of Singaporean youth with symptoms of depression and anxiety: results from a 2022 web panel.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


Nishat is a science journalist. She graduated with an MSc in Biomedical Science from Monash University where she worked with a cellular model of Parkinson’s Disease. Nishat loves lending her voice to bring science closer to society.

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