National Servicemen’s psychological well-being

Singapore is one of the handful of countries in the world with a conscript army. Unlike in a professional army where motivated solders sign up for military service voluntarily for various reasons, male Singaporean citizens are bound by duty and law to serve National Service (NS) regardless of their personal inclinations and psychological make up. Naturally, not everyone makes a good soldier. While most young Singaporean males adjust well to National Service, compulsory enlistment to military service can be very stressful for some. About 500 people are exempted annually from military service due to psychiatric conditions, like autism, while others with milder conditions are downgraded to a lower PES status. Some NSFs (full-time National Servicemen) with psychiatric conditions may slip through the screening process during the pre-enlistment checks. Others develop psychological difficulties only after enlistment. The common sources of stress include difficulties adapting to regimentation, restrictions to personal freedoms, interpersonal problems with superiors and peers, and other personal problems which arise during NS.

Risk factors
  • Anxious personality
  • Previously diagnosed with a psychiatric condition
  • Having parents or siblings with mental health issues

  • Adjustment disorder
  • Insomnia
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Anxiety disorders like panic attacks or generalised anxiety disorder
NS personnel who are in distress usually develop symptoms during the start of a transition period , for eg. during Basic Military Training, advanced training courses or when they get posted to a new unit.
Even when they book out on weekends, they may lose interest in meeting up with friends and become more socially withdrawn at home. Some new enlistees have anticipatory anxiety accompanied with a sense of doom and gloom prior to booking in on Sunday nights. Other symptoms include excessive worrying; feeling sad; loss of appetite; interrupted sleep; getting angry more easily and becoming withdrawn from others. Some enlistees find themselves visiting doctors and A&E departments to get MC to avoid or delay booking into camp. These actions are often untenable and may serve to reinforce their fear towards camp.
  • National Servicemen experiencing stress can consider calling the SAF hotline or speaking to their SAF medical officer first. They may be referred to see a SAF counsellor who can provide emotional support.
  • They can also consult a psychiatrist or psychologist at our clinic to receive immediate help. If necessary, the psychiatrist will provide a period of MC for recuperation and letters to explain their predicament to unit superiors. We hope to facilitate understanding by unit superiors, and help units support the National Serviceman emotionally.
  • Sometimes, the psychiatrist will recommend temporary or permanent downgrading to a lower PES status and advocate for a change of role in camp. If a psychiatric condition is diagnosed, the options of medications and therapy will be discussed with the patient. Through therapy, we aim to increase one’s capacity to manage stress and adversity. With support from a mental health team, many young men do adjust to army life eventually and are able to serve out their NS obligations in meaningful and fruitful ways.


Call or WhatsApp for an appointment with our psychiatrists or psychologists to get immediate help with your difficulties in NS. We adopt a respectful and non-judgmental approach in our care. Rest assured that your medical information will be kept confidential. Our information system is not linked to any institute of higher learning, company or public information system.

With support from our mental health team, you can get medication, therapy, MC or medical reports to explain your psychiatric or psychological condition to your superiors and SAF medical officers. Ultimately, we hope to help you fulfil your NS obligations in a meaningful and fruitful way.