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What are Mental Illnesses? The most common types in Singapore.

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

There are many different conditions that are recognised as mental illnesess. Understanding them is the first step to seeking help as well as helping out.

Here's the truth. 1 in 7 Singaporeans will experience a Mental Health Condition at some point in their lives.

Most people believe that Mental Disorders are rare and will happen to someone else. It's actually a lot more common than you think. In fact, probability suggests that someone amongst your friends, family or wider social circles is experiencing this right now.

The average Singaporean doesn't have a good understanding of mental health at all. That's the reason why 60% of all Singaporeans believe that mental health conditions are caused by a lack of willpower and motivation.

This rather lousy understanding of what causes mental health conditions is one of the prominent reasons why people suffering from mental health are resistant to seeking help.

Would you think you need professional help when you go to someone with a difficulty, and he or she says:

"Oh, you just need to be more motivated lah. Then you won't have so many mental problems".

"Don't be so attention-seeking man! Snap out of it!"

As a society, we need to have a better understanding of mental health. Awareness and knowledge is first step to being a better source of support for those who need it.

What are Mental Illnesses?

A mental illness is a brain-based condition that impairs the way we think, feel and behave. It affects our daily activities, as well as impacts the lives of family members and friends.

Some of the biggest misconceptions about Mental illnesses are that they are a sign of mental weakness, or a lack of motivation. It's not a choice at all. Nor are they any kind of personality flaw.

Mental illnesses are just like any other physical illnesses, for example, heart disease and diabetes. They are caused by a number of genetic and biological factors, including structural and chemical changes to the brain. For example, a 2017 review study shows that Anxiety is an inheritable disorder.

Mental illnesses are also caused by circumstances in your environment. Just like being exposed to a toxic chemical might give you cancer, having some form of early childhood trauma like abuse or the death of a parent is a strong precedence for mental illness in a later stage of life.

Experiencing a great deal of stress in your work and life is another such environmental factor too.

Mental illnesses are also very treatable, especially with early detection and intervention. Psychotherapy is one the effective ways of helping someone recover and manage a mental disorder.

Create a safe place to talk by seeing a Psychologist or Psychotherapist.

The most common types of Mental illnesses.

There are nearly 300 mental health conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Version 5 (DSM-5). This is the guidebook of symptoms that Physicians and Psychiatrists (Mental health doctors) use to diagnose a mental health condition.

Below are some of the most common mental illnesses in Singapore.

1) Mood Disorders

Did you know that there is more than one type of depression? Mood disorders are the most common type of mental illnesses experienced in Singapore.

Mood disorders are also what's known as affective disorders. In generally, they involve persistent feelings of sadness, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness.

The most common mood disorder is Major Depressive Disorder, which affects 1 in every 16 Singaporeans (6%) at some point in their lives. This is characterised by a persistent and almost daily feeling of sadness as well as a lost of interest in doing the things one used to love doing. If this is something you experience for more than two weeks, it's time to check it out.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), also known as dysthymia, is a long-term form of depression. Its symptoms are similar to other forms of depression, including feelings of sadness, and loss of interest in daily activities, but can last for many years.

This form of depression can be really hard to diagnose as people who have PDD may unknowingly accept it as part of their character and personality. Many of them tend to be high-functioning, which we must take special note here that it isn't the same as normal functioning, and carry on their lives with these symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder affects about 1.6% of Singaporeans, and is marked by extreme changes from low to high moods. High moods are what's known as Mania, while low moods are periods of Depression. During such episodes, daily life can be significantly disrupted.

2) Anxiety Disorders.

People with anxiety disorders respond to certain events, objects or situations with much fear and dread. They also experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a rapid heartbeat, shaking and sweating.

Anxiety is a very normal response to stressful situations in life. However, when the symptoms of anxiety become larger than the events that trigger them in the first place and start to interfere with your life, these are signs of an anxiety disorder.

The most common type of anxiety disorder is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which affects 3.6% of our population.

OCD is not the same as being particularly clean or neat. We Singaporeans make grave misuse of the condition all the time.

People with OCD tend to have recurring and unwanted thoughts and impulses that drive them to do something repeatedly. They spend so much time performing repetitive tasks like cleaning, organising and disinfecting things, that it gets in the way of living daily-life normally. It causes great distress.

Without seeking help, it's a really tough condition to deal with as they may be well aware that their thoughts are irrational, but are still unable to stop the compulsion.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 1.6% of our population. This is chronic form of anxiety and develops over time. People suffering from GAD tend to worry excessively over issues, where the worry far exceeds the actual issue itself. It can be triggered by anything from health-related concerns, to family and financial concerns.

Panic Disorder (PD) is a form of anxiety where one experiences an intense period of fear called Panic Attacks. If you're not sure what Panic Attacks feel like, emotionally it's an intense, overwhelming sensation of fear that debilitates you. Physically, what you feel is a rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea and fear of dying or losing control.

Social Anxiety Disorder as its name suggests is an anxiety disordered triggered by a fear of everyday social situations. People suffering from this are excessively worried, and self-conscious that they are being watched or judged by others. They experience physical symptoms in response to this anxiety.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety experiencing after a traumatic event. It can even last for several years after the initial event took place. Many have symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts.

Lastly, there are Anxiety Disorders specifically related to Phobias. These can be triggered by sorts of things, such as spiders, snakes, a fear of heights, or a fear of enclosed spaces which you might know as Claustrophobia.

Some of the more common types of phobias are related to:

  • Animal Phobias: Fear of insects or animals like dogs.

  • Blood or Injection Phobias: Fear of needles or seeing your own blood.

  • Situational Phobias: Fear of elevators, being on aeroplanes or heights.

  • Agoraphobia: Fear of being outside alone.

3) Impulse Control and Addiction disorders

Addictions are related to the excessive consumption of substances like alcohol or drugs, as well as stimulus like pornographic material, or even experiences like gambling and sex.

It becomes so excessive that it begins to interfere with your life.

The most common type of addiction and substance abuse disorder in Singapore is Alcohol abuse which affects 4.6% of Singaporeans. It doesn't take much to be considered a heavy drinker. For males, this stands at more than four drinks a day or over fourteen a week; while for females, that's more than three a day or seven in a week.

Other types of addiction disorders include compulsive gambling, misuse of Over-The-Counter (OTC) medication, and Kleptomania (Stealing).

4) Personality Disorders (PD)

Personality disorders are a very poorly understood range of conditions in Singapore.

Because of the word 'personality' in there, people get confused between a personality trait vs. a personality disorder.

What's the difference? Personality traits are enduring patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. They are neither good nor bad, such as being introverted. Yes, being introverted might lead you to miss out on a social occasion now and then, but withdrawing to your own comfort also reinvigorates you.

Personality disorders means that you have inflexible thoughts and behaviours that affect all areas of your life, negatively. It's extremely distressing and cause problems in work, school, and social relationships.

For example, someone with a Narcissistic personality trait might be ruthless and egocentric at work. However they go home and can be entirely kind to their family members. On the other hand, someone with a Narcissistic personality disorder is unable to empathise with anyone in their lives, even the people that they love.

There are actually 3 clusters of personality disorders.

There are too many to go through in this article, so I'll share more about these in an extended article. However, as an introduction and some of the adjectives that are used to describe them:

Cluster A personality disorders are characterized by odd, eccentric thinking or behavior. They include:

  • Paranoid PD - sensitive, suspicious

  • Schizoid PD - seclusive, indifferent, passive

  • Schizotypal PD - odd thinking and speech, bizarre fantasies

Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior. They include:

  • Antisocial PD - aggressive, abusive, rule-breaking

  • Borderline PD - impulsive, self-mutilative, manipulative

  • Histrionic PD - flamboyant, attention-seeking, provocative

  • Narcissistic PD - excessive self-admiration, egocentric, sense of grandiose

Cluster C personality disorders are characterized by anxious, fearful thinking or behavior. They include:

  • Avoidant PD - fears criticism, overly-serious, withdrawn

  • Dependent PD - clingy, indecisive, submissive

  • Obsessive-compulsive PD - perfectionist, passive-aggressive, rigid

In many cases, many Singaporeans do not realise that they have a personality disorder. Due to the lack of awareness around these personality disorders, they believe their way of thinking and behaving seems to be natural or part of their personality.

Even when it's wrecking havoc in their lives, they may not know that they can seek help for it.

Here's a quick guide. If you think that aspects of your personality is making you distressed about many areas of your life, be it in romantic relationships, work, school, or your friendships, then open up yourself and speak to a mental health professional about it. At the very least, you'll surely find some help there.

5) Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is type of disorder characterised by distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms are Hallucinations, which are seeing, hearing or even feeling something that is not there, as well as Delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the person believes to be true, even though all evidence ride against it.

Other symptoms include disorganised speech, such as using made-up words or repeating the same thing over and over again; Disorganised behaviour by exhibiting bizarre and unexplainable behaviour and emotions; and Negative Symptoms, which is the absence of emotions, and interest in the world.

There are many types of Schizophrenias, with the most common types including:

  • Paranoid Schizophrenia

  • Catatonic Schizophrenia

  • Disorganised Schizophrenia

  • Residual Schizophrenia

  • Undifferentiated Schizophrenia

In Singapore, there are many resources available and people that are ready to help at any time. Please do check these out below or even drop me an email so I can direct you to someone who can help.

Take care.

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868

(8am-12am daily, from 1 Sep 2020)

Mental Well-being

- Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline (6389-2222)

- Samaritans of Singapore (1800-221-4444)


- TOUCHline (Counselling) – 1800 377 2252


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