"Even though me and my friends have moved out from Bukit Gombak Group Home (BGGH), we still keep in touch. BGGH helped us to reintegrate back into society and taught us how to get along with one another. I would like to thank BGGH for giving us a place to stay on our road to recovery." - Former client of BGGH who suffers from Bipolar Disorder.
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, more unashamed conversation about illnesses that affect not only individuals, but their families as well.” - Glenn Close. That is essentially the reason for the setting up of the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH). Founded in 1968, in a time of strong stigma against mental illness, a group of like-minded medical and mental health professionals, social workers and volunteers, gathered together under the then Woodbridge Hospital Rehabilitation Committee to set up SAMH. These founding members recognized the need to advance the cause of those suffering from mental illnesses – stigmatized and marginalized by society. The stigma had to go. After all, social support is one of the major factors in helping these people recover and move on. And so, on the 26 April 1969, the inaugural meeting of SAMH was held.
“Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When "I" is replaced by "We", illness becomes wellness."- Shannon L. Alder
No funding. No infrastructure. No training centres. These were some of the few descriptors of the early years. Yet the team had one goal – to eventually reintegrate the discharged patient back into the community. As Dr Paul W. Ngui, First chairman of SAMH puts it - “It is paradoxical that the community provides hospitals for the care and treatment of people with mental illness so that he may recover and resume his place in the community. But what happens! When he returns from the hospital to the community, he is shunned by society and cut off into a social isolation with little or no help in getting back on his feet!” This was an impossible task with the level of stigma against mental illnesses at that time. Hence the need for mental health education was identified, to remove that stigma from society. Early years of SAMH were targeted towards creating awareness and changing mind sets of the family members and professionals.
“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” – H. Humprey
From the late 70s onward, SAMH was characterized by growth in terms of its education programmes and services. With better fundraising efforts and more support, SAMH was able to implement wide scale mental health education campaigns, with mobile exhibitions staged around Singapore, organizing talks, seminars and producing a variety of brochures for different issues. SAMH also was involved in ground-breaking research which demonstrated the state of mental health of the Singapore population. They also widened their services, setting up a women’s only halfway home and the Bukit Gombak Group Home (BGGH) to allow for gradual readjustment of patients into society and initiating support groups. Focus was also directed to support those with mild psychiatric morbidity, resulting in the establishment of counselling services that covered social or relational issues, as well as free counselling services for the needy. Training centres were also established, in line with the one uniting goal when SAMH was first founded - to reintegrate the discharged patient back into the community.
“At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.” - Michelle Obama
Today SAMH operates 8 centres around Singapore, and has a comprehensive range of services that not only focuses on those with diagnosed mental illnesses, but also the caregivers, those at risk of developing mental illnesses, and those that are affected by mild psychiatric morbidity such as stress in the everyday work. SAMH’s scope of services has widened significantly since its beginnings. Their mission is
To improve the lives of persons with mental illness and provide support for their families
To promote acceptance and respect for persons with mental illness
To improve the mental resilience of our community
The mental health scene is now very much different from the days when SAMH was founded. The stigma of mental illnesses has lessened considerably. However there is much more to be done. The stigma is still present. There are people out in the community who still require assistance in getting professional help. The work of reintegrating people with mental illnesses back into society is still ongoing. SAMH will continue to be at the forefront of such initiatives, guided by the same principle that it was founded upon 45 years ago – to reintegrate people suffering from mental illness back into the community and reducing the stigma against mental illnesses.
If you can identify with the mission of SAMH, be a volunteer! One can volunteer directly as volunteer Instructors, Teach Skills (e.g. acting, dancing, art & craft, computers, cooking, gardening etc.) or be a Volunteer Befriender to Facilitate outings, conduct camps, plan parties.
You can also volunteer indirectly as administrative support or at Public Forums/Outreach Event to help manage booth, logistics, ushering duties etc.
Visit http://www.samhealth.org.sg/volunteers/ to find out more!