While we don’t often think about mental illness in Singapore, its effects can be devastating for both parents and their children. The stigma of mental illness is still a major obstacle in getting help to patients – and their children too, who may suffer as a result of their parents’ illness.
A pilot programme offering support to children whose parents are mentally ill has had limited reach.
Project Orchid, run by the AMKFSC Community Services and funded by the National Council of Social Service, started seeing cases in November last year. So far, 20 families have been referred by schools, family service centres and other agencies. But eight families have said no to the help offered.
AMKFSC’s head of youth work department Tan Yi Ying said: “Not many people know we have started this project, but even if they know, it may be hard to convince them to join. The social stigma surrounding mental illness prevents them from seeking help due to ‘face’ issues.” They also worry that others will shun their children, if they find out about their parents’ mental illness, she said.
The programme was started to get help early to the children, as some may find it hard to cope with their parents’ illness or worse, are at a higher risk of developing a mental illness themselves. This is because of genetic and other factors underlying mental illness, a host of overseas research has found, said Ms Voon Yen Sing, assistant director of clinical services at the Singapore Association for Mental Health. Parenting ability may also be affected by the illnesses, social workers said.
Ms Tan said: “Some parents suffer from depression, (and) may take it out on their kids unknowingly and this strains their relationship. Another worry is that the children learn their parents’ unhealthy coping skills.”