Mental Healthcare Provisions for Migrant Workers

Anthea Indira Ong
3 min readJun 5, 2020

Parliamentary Question, 5 June 2020

Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Manpower (a) what mental healthcare is provided for work permit holders residing in (i) dormitories (ii) factory-converted dormitories (iii) onsite temporary quarters and (iv) other residences; (b) how are these measures communicated to (i) work permit holders and (ii) their employers; © how does the Ministry work with NGOs in expanding support to work permit holders for their mental health needs; (d) whether the Ministry will establish for work permit holders (i) a dedicated mental wellness hotline that funnels to the respective NGOs and (ii) ground consultation teams staffed with mental healthcare professionals.

Mrs Josephine Teo: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) partners with NGOs, such as Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) and Healthserve, to meet the mental well-being needs of foreign workers living in dormitories and other forms of housing.

The Migrant Workers’ Centre has an existing 24 hours helpline manned by MWC staff where workers can call in for assistance on any issues, or if they just need a listening ear. In April, Healthserve launched a dedicated mental wellness hotline where workers can access important medical information and submit their requests for tele-counselling sessions. These tele-counselling sessions are conducted by more than 100 trained volunteer counsellors in the foreign workers’ native languages. Since April, Healthserve’s hotline has received more than 4,000 enquiries and more than 300 workers have signed up for their tele-counselling sessions. Workers who are in distress for any reason can call either the MWC or the Healthserve hotline.

In addition, our FAST teams and MWC’s network of 5,000 Foreign Worker Ambassadors proactively look out for residents, whom they assess may benefit from the service, and refer them to a mental health counsellor. Depending on the group size, Healthserve may tap on their pool of more than 30 volunteer Psychiatrists for a remote group counselling, or activate a counsellor for one-to-one tele-counselling session with the worker. More than 150 cases have been referred to Healthserve so far.

Besides counselling services, Healthserve and MWC also provide financial assistance to help foreign workers in financial distress.

To ensure dormitory residents are informed of the available support channels including the MWC and Healthserve hotlines, MOM sends out regular bulletins highlighting the help that organisations such as MWC and Healthserve can offer. Videos produced by Healthserve on upholding mental health have also been shared among the residents. At the dormitories, posters are put up to inform residents of when they should seek help and how. Additionally, all first-time non-Malaysian work permit holders are required to attend a mandatory one-day Settling-in Programme where they are taught the avenues and given the hotline numbers to seek help if they are stressed or depressed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.

She is also 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).

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