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How Dare You Call Me Non-Essential?!

Let’s talk about video calls, therapy and… NON-ESSENTIAL services.

But first, let me just say that I guess it took a pandemic for me to discover just how much I enjoy connecting with friends via video calls.

I wrote previously about how I like the isolation, and I had many telling me that they too enjoyed the “me” time that they have been forced to have recently due to the safe distancing measures as a result of Covid-19.

But it’s also because for this group of happy isolators, they have nice homes, plenty of home entertainment options, no concerns on basic sustenance needs, independent cats vs needy children and so on.

For this group of isolators, it’s not really isolation because technology is in their hands.

Like in mine. How effortless it has been to have virtual happy hours with friends all around the world and in Singapore!

It’s been therapeutic. 😊

And on that note, so many article are surfacing about mental health during this Covid-19 period.

Is it really non-essential?

We have all heard about the increase in calls to mental health support chatlines, the concerns raised by community advocates about what the pandemic can do to people’s mental health and so on.

I must say that I was shocked that despite all its talk about how mental wellbeing is increasingly recognised as a big area of focus in Singapore, the relevant authorities did something seemingly counter-intuitive by classifying psychological treatments as non-essential during the “Covid-19 circuit breaker” period.

The circuit breaker is akin to a mini lockdown where all non-essential services’ workplaces have to be closed during a certain period.

WTF, screamed the advocates!

But… STOP.

At first I thought, bloody hypocrites, the authorities.

You mean only those who are taking psychiatric medication to manage their illness are considered as needing essential services?

You mean, you don’t understand that therapy and counselling and rehab should be viewed as part of a holistic plan to treat mental health matters?

You mean, you don’t see that of ALL TIMES, now is when mental health services should be considered ESSENTIAL???

Then I said, wait a minute.

Once I put the ego aside about how dare you classify psychological treatment as “non-essential”, I realised that of all the services that can benefit from virtual services, counselling / therapy is one of them.

Not for all patients, of course. Those who are in danger, not stable, it is up to the informed opinion of their doctors / counsellors on how to treat them, that is, to continue the in-person sessions.

But for the rest, the main parts of therapy comprise the patient sharing, observations, discussions, feedback, right? So video calls should be able to meet the need?

Some psychologists hold the opinion that video calls don’t allow them to assess the nuances of their patient.

But others say they can manage just fine over video calls.

A recent article I wrote talked about how I was planning to explore therapy. I had my initial in-person session just before the circuit breaker kicked in.

And then a couple of days later, we went into circuit-breaker mode. So the psychologist proposed online sessions.

I had my online session with her a couple of days back. I told her that I would be extra-expressive so that she didn’t have to concentrate so hard to figure out my subtle signals.

She told me it was not necessary, that she could see just fine. 😊

Now, I barely know her, we don’t have any form of established doctor-patient relationship, and yet, talking to her online was no different from talking in person, I feel.

As I said, for mental health therapy, it’s focused on discussions, right? It’s not like she has to touch and feel me to observe and figure out a plan.

And so I decided, it was not a wrong decision to classify psychological treatments as “non-essential”. Remember: The classification simply means the physical shutting of workplaces, not the cessation of the provision of service. And secondly, there are exceptions that are allowed.

Branding therapy as non-essential sounds backwards, clueless, heartless but I choose to view it as just a technical classification. I believe that, in most cases, it is an essential service that can be delivered virtually, in these circumstances.

So, fellow mental health advocates, put down those arms. It is okay. Would you like to have a video call with me, instead? 😊


In all seriousness, though, you can reach out to the following support line that has been specifically set up to help those dealing with mental health issues during this Covid-19 period. The 24-hour helpline has over 300 volunteer psychologists, counsellors, social workers, psychiatrists and public officers manning it:

National CARE Hotline : 6202-6868

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide and are unable to keep yourself safe, please contact the 24-hour hotlines of:

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800 221 4444

Institute of Mental Health (IMH): 6389 2222.

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