5th Lee Kim Tah Lecture: Mental Health in the City – Living, Working & Ageing in Singapore

NUS Mind Science Centre organised the 5th Lee Kim Tah public seminar on 20 Jan 2019 at the National Gallery Singapore, Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium. Titled Mental Health in the City: Living, Working and Ageing in Singapore, the public seminar started off with an opening address by Associate Professor John Wong Chee Meng, who expressed appreciation to NUS Mind Science Centre’s partners and key donors who made the event possible.

L-R: Professor Kua Ee Heok, Professor Norman Sartorius, Dr Celine Wong, Dr Tian Cheong Sing, Dr Chris Tsoi
L-R: Professor Kua Ee Heok, Professor Norman Sartorius, Dr Celine Wong, Dr Tian Cheong Sing, Dr Chris Tsoi

The event started off with a moving slideshow and book launch by Professor Kua Ee Heok, on “Speaking up for Mental Illness”. The book aims to share Professor Kua’s 38 years of research on Mental Illness in Singapore and is: “A provocative and compelling book on the endeavour to de-stigmatise mental illness”.

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The opening lecture features Professor Norman Sartorius, former director of Mental Health, World Health Organisation and President of the World Psychiatric Association. Professor Norman Sartorius is the first invited speaker for the Tow Tiang Seng Distinguished Lecture Series.

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Professor Norman Sartorius gave an insightful introduction to the changing global trends and effects of urbanization resulting in environmental changes, evolution of diseases, impacting the way we live and transformation into city life. Due to the advancements in healthcare and development of cities, lifespans have increased and there are more people living alone.

The evolution of mental health care comprises various differing forms ranging from mental institutions, hospitals, to carer/therapy peer groups and social work care. The effectiveness of the various interventions need to be evaluated and rearranged constantly to identify the highest success combinations specific to each city, and the key care mosaic combinations for care provision need to include the minimal requirements or checklist conditions to return a patient to a community.

There is no single successful solution, but to succeed, skilled, supportive leadership and effective communication is essential to enable successful mental health schemes to be nurtured and proliferated effectively.

Providing a local perspective, clinicians from the National University Hospital were also invited to share educational tips on issues faced by various groups across the age continuum in Singapore and encourage mental health in the city.

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The second speaker, Dr Celine Wong covered five useful tips on: “Helping children cope and enjoy school”. The school is a place for children to develop holistically, and children at different ages have varying needs. To help them ease into the different stages of learning and varying environments, the five general tips are: sleep, food, relationships, recreational time and positive parenting.

Adequate and restful sleep rejuvenates the mind, helps children to grow physically, and consolidates what they learn in the day. A regular bed time helps set circadian rhythm and establishes a routine so that children are better prepared to take on the school day.

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Secondly, Dr Wong advised against skipping breakfast as it is the most important meal of the day. A balanced and nutritious breakfast gives children energy to start off the day and sets a calm, predictable morning routine.

Thirdly, a circle of love and support with friends, neighbours, extended family and teachers help children to establish social relationships, increase levels of interaction with others and help build a two-way communication.

Fourthly, the importance of recreational time to rejuvenate the mind and spirit of children can be done so through Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs). Encouraging children to pursue their interests can aid in building mastery and self-esteem, allow relaxation and rejuvenation, and help them cope with stress, anger and anxiety.

Dr Wong finished up with a final tip on positive parenting, which encompasses gentle but firm guidance, mutual respect and positive instructions. Positive parenting focuses on teaching and learning the reasons behind the actions, instead of punishment, to nurture a respectful, caring and understanding child.

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The third speaker, Dr Tian Cheong Sing spoke on a topic that was close to heart to many of the adult population, “Preventing Burnout at Work” – Getting the most out of work instead of allowing work to get the most out of us.

Firstly, Dr Tian encouraged the audience to examine one’s philosophy of work, the reasons behind why we work and one’s ambitions. With the sharing of a personal and humorous anecdote, Dr Tian engaged the audience and shared tips on getting the most learning and development out of work. The setting of learning goals, rather than performance goals, is the key to competence and mastery of skills.

Secondly, Dr Tian touched on getting the most meaning and purpose out of work. The way one looks at work, be it merely a career, or a calling, impacts the perspective and attitudes at work. The importance of friendships at work is also an important aspect that cannot be undermined. Each and every individual contributes to a micro-culture at the workplace and plays an important role in making the workplace a happy one. The amount of time an individual spends at work is significant and important as it shapes a large part of adult life, after school and before retirement.

In conclusion, work is a privilege to be enjoyed, and as much as possible, we should strive towards learning and development, transforming our work into meaning and purpose, and make time for friendships, to promote mental health at work.

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Last but not least, Dr Chris Tsoi gave a talk on Seven Tips to ageing well. First and foremost, exercising regularly and incorporating resistance workouts will help to build and retain muscle as one ages. This will improve balance and reduces the risk of falls and fractures.

Secondly, an emphasis on a balanced and nutritious diet is important, and a conscious effort to reduce sugar and fat intake is necessary. To lead a healthier lifestyle, stop smoking and ensure adequate sleep, so that the body can replenish and recharge.

Most importantly, socialising with friends and relatives is important in maintaining happiness levels as one ages. A positive mind-set is important as well, and Mindfulness Practice can help achieve this. The NUS Mind Science Centre is looking at conducting Mindfulness Training sessions at Alexandra Hospital in the second quarter of 2019, and interested parties may email Ms Joy Chen at joy_jiaoyu_chen@nullnuhs.edu.sg to register interest.

The public lecture was then concluded with a lively question and answer session with the speakers and moderated by Professor Kua, where members of the public were able to express some of their queries and achieve a better understanding from the sharing session. Tokens of appreciation were presented to the speakers to end off an insightful Sunday afternoon at the National Gallery.

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