Institute of Mental Health

The Institute of Mental Health is the only government mental hospital in Singapore.1 It was relocated to its present campus – a modern complex off Hougang Street 51 – in April 1993. The site is near the old Woodbridge Hospital off Jalan Woodbridge, which has since been demolished.2 Woodbridge is thought to be named after a wooden bridge at a nearby stream of Seletar River.3

History and early key developments
In the early decades of the 19th century, the mentally ill were not given any medical treatment.4 They were described as insane and jailed with convicts in an overcrowded convict jail, looked after by convicts. It was only when a mentally ill inmate killed another person in prison in October 1840 that the colonial government started paying attention to those with mental health problems.5

In 1841, a 30-bed Insane Hospital was built at the corner of Bras Basah Road and Bencoolen Street.6 The hospital was expanded a decade later. By 1860, the number of patients had increased to 131.7 Treatment continued to be purgatives, given once a month with tartar antimony, counter-irritation drugs, belladona and morphia administered as sedatives.8

In May 1861, the Insane Hospital was moved to a site near the Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital and renamed Lunatic Asylum. It was relocated again in 1887, this time to a bigger facility on College Road which could accommodate up to 300 beds. During this period, the British continued to consider isolation as therapeutic for mentally ill patients.9

When a cholera outbreak occurred in August 1887 in the asylum, the transfer of psychiatric patients to a newly built facility at Sepoy Lines was hastened. The treatment approach at this new asylum was more holistic and focused on the patients’ lifestyle. There were also fewer restrictions. When Dr Gilbert Ellis was appointed psychiatrist and medical superintendent, he stopped the use of straitjackets and wanted the physicians to treat mentally ill patients with more dignity.10

In 1928, the Mental Hospital was built at Yio Chu Kang, and thereafter all mental patients were relocated there. Treatment at the new facility began to include farm work as rehabilitation.11

Japanese Occupation (1942–45)
When the Japanese occupied Singapore in February 1942, they took over the Mental Hospital, to which 800 civilian casualties were transferred.12 The hospital was later renamed Miyako Byoin (Japanese Civilian and Military Hospital).13 Some of the mental patients were sent home, while 500 of them were transferred to St John’s Island. Many of those on St John’s Island died of starvation and those who remained were returned to the hospital in end 1942.14

Postwar decades
After the war ended in 1945, the British took over the hospital. The male and female sections became the Japanese POW (Prisoners-of-war) Hospital and the Royal Air Force Hospital respectively.15 Following the gradual evacuation of the troops, the Mental Hospital reopened on 15 April 1946 and the building was restored.16

The Mental Hospital was renamed Woodbridge Hospital in 1951.17 It expanded to include a social works department in 1955. New drugs and effective procedures were also introduced.18 By 1958, the hospital could accommodate up to 2,000 patients.19

By the 1970s, the Ministry of Health realised the need to cater specifically to children and adolescents with psychological and emotional problems.20 A Child Guidance Clinic (later renamed Child Psychiatric Clinic) was thus set up at the Singapore General Hospital.21 In 1982, Woodbridge Hospital opened a child psychiatric in-patient unit with 18 beds for children.22

Key developments since 1990s
Talks of constructing a new building were underway in 1984, as the hospital’s premises in Yio Chu Kang were no longer adequate for modern treatment requirements.23

In April 1993, the hospital moved to a new, modern complex in Hougang that was suitable for modern psychiatry practice,24 while the old site was slated for redevelopment.25 Constructed at a cost of S$200 million, the new hospital complex comprised nine blocks ranging from two to six storeys.26 Occupying 30 ha of land and with the gross floor area increased by 55 percent, the new complex is much more compact compared with the old Woodbridge Hospital, which sat on 80 ha of land.27

That same year, Woodbridge Hospital was reorganised and renamed the Institute of Mental Health/Woodbridge Hospital.28 The name Woodbridge Hospital was retained for the inpatient facilities (ward blocks), while the outpatient facilities are together known as the Institute of Mental Health. Both entities share the same administration.29

The hospital’s operating costs are high, mainly because of the large number of long-term patients without family support. In 2001, it was S$7 million in the red. To reduce costs, 900 stable patients were transferred the following year to homes or care centres where there were better opportunities for them to obtain group therapy and work, while helping them to reintegrate into society.30

In 2005, the Institute of Mental Health/Woodbridge Hospital became the first mental health institution in Asia to receive the Joint Commission International accreditation, which benchmarks standards of care at the hospital with international standards.31

In 2006, Buangkok Green Medical Park was launched by then Minister for Health Khaw Boon Wan to revamp the premises into a medical hub.32


Joshua Chia

1. Ng Beng Yong, Till the Break of Day: A History of Mental Health Services in Singapore 1841–1993 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2001), 274. (Call no. RSING 362.2095957 NG)
2. “New Home for a New Beginning,” Straits Times, 30 October 1993, 38 (From NewspaperSG); Fiona Soh and Vera Soo, eds., Heartening Minds (Singapore: Institute of Mental Health/Woodbridge Hospital, 2008), 30. (Call no. RSING 362.21095957 HEA)
3. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 190. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
4. Ng, Till the Break of Day, 9.
5. B. Y. Ng and K. T. Chee, “A Brief history of Psychiatry in Singapore,” International Review of Psychiatry 18, no. 4 (2006): 355. (From EBSCOhost via NLB’s eResources website)
6. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 355.
7. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 355; Ng, Till the Break of Day, 11.
8. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 355.
9. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 355.
10. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 356.
11. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 356.
12. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 356; “Milestones,” Institute of Mental Health, accessed 2 May 2017.
13. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 115.
14. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 356.
15. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 356; Ng, Till the Break of Day, 121.
16. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 356; Institute of Mental Health, “Milestone.”
17. Institute of Mental Health, “Milestone.”
18. Ng, Till the Break of Day, 142.
19. “Old Woodbridge Hospital Site Slated for Flats,” Straits Times, 5 June 1993, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Ng, Till the Break of Day, 181–3.
21. “‘Children Need More Mental Care’,” Singapore Herald, 27 July 1970, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Ng and Chee, “Brief history of Psychiatry,” 358.
23. Institute of Mental Health (Singapore) and Woodbridge Hospital (Singapore), Loving Hearts, Beautiful Minds: 75th Anniversary (Singapore: Armour Pub., 2003), 30. (Call no. RSING q362.21095957 LOV)
24. Soh and Soo, Heartening Minds, 30.
25. “Old Woodbridge Hospital Site Slated for Flats.”
26. Ng, Till the Break of Day, 273–4; Liang Hwee Ting, “Woodbridge to Move Out 900 Patients,” Straits Times, 30 December 2002, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Ng, Till the Break of Day, 274; Institute of Mental Health, “Milestone.”
28. Institute of Mental Health, “Milestone.”
29. Ng, Till the Break of Day, 270, 274.
30. Liang, “Woodbridge to Move Out 900 Patients.” 
31. Institute of Mental Health, “Milestone.”
32. Soh and Soo, Heartening Minds, 85.

The information in this article is valid as of 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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Psychiatric hospitals--Singapore