Mental Health Matters: Are We Doing Enough?

Credit: Ng Min Hua, Johnson & Johnson who was in the audience. :)
  1. My incredibly bright nephew was diagnosed with anxiety disorder at just 15, and last year with depression. He’s made several attempts to hurt himself and is currently out of the school system at the promising age of 17. He is not alone in his plight. The Lancet Commission has stated that mental health issues are the leading cause of disability in adolescents aged 15 to 19, worldwide.
  2. A team mate at Hush TeaBar has been on treatment for major depression and mild bipolar for years. His employment experience has been patchy because of workplace discrimination until he joined Hush TeaBar. Another one who is Deaf struggles with deep anger issues from young because he was constantly bullied for his deafness. The young man whom I work with at another community project called A Good Space almost jumped off from the 15th floor of a HDB flat when he was just 19. They too, are only examples of a larger trend. According to the Health Promotion Board, the mental wellbeing of working adults in Singapore is 13% lower than the general population. In 2014, studies found that workplace stress is the root cause of 90% of psychological conditions in Singapore.
  3. The elderly is similarly affected by mental health issues. A study by NUS showed that one in five of those aged 75 and above show signs of depression: There’s the old uncle living in my block at Marine Crescent who was depressed from the death of his wife and started sleeping on the bench in the void deck at night. Just the other day, a young taxi driver shared with me about his 87 year old grandfather jumping to his death by climbing up the flower pot racks along his HDB corridor after his breakfast, his whole family was still having their breakfast inside the flat when they heard the loud thud
  1. Other than Employee Assistance Programme and Worklife Services for employees and their families at no cost, Johnson & Johnson recently launched a new Employee Resource Group here in Singapore called ‘Mental Health Diplomats’ to build a more inclusive culture and encourage peer to peer conversation about mental health and wellbeing. Some of these diplomats are also employees with lived experience. At the recent TEDx@JNJ where I was also an invited speaker, the company’s Chief Mental Health Officer and another senior executive shared their personal mental health experiences to employees worldwide.
  2. Dow Chemical is one of the few organisations that have a Chief Inclusion Officer that reports directly to the Group CEO. The Singapore office made workplace adjustments including Employee Assistance Programme and raising awareness of self care through innovative activities like Hush. They also provide Quiet Rooms in all their office sites where employees can spend some private time to take naps, meditate and relax during work hours. Feedback from employees has been positive. [Workplace adjustments may be perceived to be costly but NCSS’ survey of over 500 companies found that every $1 invested in workplace adjustments gives an average of $5.65 in returns in productivity increase, drop in absenteeism, medical claims savings and reduction in hiring costs. 8 in 10 companies surveyed that implemented mental health friendly initiatives also saw significantly improved staff morale.]
  3. In Accenture, mental wellbeing is more than a leadership priority, it’s increasingly their organisation’s DNA what with a clarion call to be Truly Human. They have a clear roadmap on developing a mental health friendly culture including training Career Counsellors in mental health support and senior leaders being mental health champions. Just recently, one of these champions whose day job is leading a business that generates a total revenue of $1billion shared why he chose to come out with his mental health difficulty. Because this is the kind of conversation that we must have to normalise mental health.
  1. Committing to the cause
  2. Planning your approach to a mental health friendly workplace
  3. Developing a mental health friendly culture
  4. Increasing mental health awareness in the workplace
  5. Managing mental health in the workplace
  6. Recruiting persons with mental health conditions — if you are still asking job applicants to declare their mental illness, please abolish this discriminatory practice. Instead, we should have the necessary support structures in place. My experience as an employer of persons with mental health conditions for the last 4 years can attest to this being the right, and smarter thing to do.
  7. Implementing workplace adjustments
  8. Supporting recovery and return to work
  9. Evaluating your approach



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Anthea Indira Ong

Anthea Indira Ong

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