Mentally troubled youngsters seeking help in record numbers

( dpa ) - A record number of children and adolescents are seeking help for mental illnesses in Singapore as the stigma of counselling has diminished, a published report said on Sunday.

The Institute of Mental Health's (IMH) Child Guidance Clinic, which provides services for those 19 and below, saw nearly 3,000 referrals last year.

Between 2000 to 2006, the IMH had between 2,000 and 2,500 annual referrals, mostly from schools or polyclinics, according to a breakdown in The Sunday Times.

Dr Ong Say How, the IMH's deputy chief, said most of the new cases were children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disorders or emotional disorders such as excessive worry, fear and sadness.

He cited better public knowledge of the IMH's services and increasing numbers of school counsellors who are more "vigilant and ready to refer students to the IMH's clinics."

The stigma of having a child referred to counsellors or psychiatrists has diminished, he noted.

"In the past, people thought it was a bad reflection of their parenting skills if they needed to bring in their child for help," a primary school counsellor was quoted as saying.

"But now, if you don't bring in your child to seek help, that is seen as bad parenting," the counsellor said.

Eight out of 10 counsellors and psychiatrists noted a greater lack of parent-child interaction in addition to higher stress currently faced by the young.

During interactions, parents inevitably asked about schoolwork and test scores instead of the children's wellbeing.

Koh Wah Khoon, director of family services at the Singapore Children's Society, told the newspaper she has noticed a trend of children equating their self-worth with how far they had met their parents expectations.

More parents also have problems getting their children to bed with the distraction of the internet. The problem used to be limited to university of polytechnic students, but children as young as 11 are brought to counsellors now.

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