Between Meritocracy and Mental Health Sits Gratitude and Inclusion

(Josh C. Lyman via

Stress, Suicides and One Too Many

On 8 June, I was taking turns sitting with LC, NC and NB — three staff members of Hush TeaBar because they were experiencing ‘breakdown episodes’ — and strangely, all at the same time. [The entire team of Hush is made up of the Deaf and PMHIs (persons with mental health issues) — the 3 are PMHIs.] All three have battled with suicidal thoughts/attempts. On my way home, the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide popped up on my phone.

Meritocracy, Anxiety and Why So Busy

Unlike an aristocracy where one’s status is determined by birth, meritocracy levels the playing field for all so — in theory — there are no limits to what we want to be. The peasant in an aristocracy would not lose sleep over never becoming a noble or owning the land he ploughs on because he never could. But a hawker in this modern meritocracy knows his son is not ‘destined’ to follow in his footsteps and can just as likely be a doctor as the doctor’s son. The disparate social values accorded to a hawker versus a doctor would naturally compell the hawker to do all he can to ‘veer’ his son towards being a doctor. Or the desire to have a big house like the doctor’s because there’s no restriction on him to purchase one. This is a good thing in the name of social mobility and progress yet it also creates what philosopher Alain de Botton calls ‘status anxiety’ which he argues is the cause of the ubiquitous poverty of satisfaction we see in the world today. This innate anxiety is exacerbated by our sense of identity being determined by how others see us. Social media then came along to amplify this externally-centric and comparative way of living.

Awareness, Gratitude and Let’s Fight On

The father of capitalism, Adam Smith, once said that ‘no society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of its members are poor and miserable’. Or rich and miserable, I should add. Indeed, how can we be happy if so many around us are not?


Anthea Ong is an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

A full-time human, and part-time everything else.