“One in seven adults in Singapore has suffered a mood, anxiety, or alcohol use problem in their lifetime,” according to a recent poll by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). This report also highlighted the current problem of a “treatment gap,” in which the majority of persons with mental health problems do not seek professional help. This might be attributable to two factors.
First, there is a failure to recognize the symptoms, and second, there is a stigma associated with mental illness. The findings imply that, while having a mental health problem is not uncommon in Singapore, it is still a commonly misunderstood and taboo topic.
Mental health stigma refers to societal disapproval, or when society places shame on people who live with a mental illness or seek help for emotional distress, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or PTSD.
In Singapore, according to the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), more than five in 10 people are unwilling to work with one with a mental health condition. Six in 10 also think that mental health conditions are caused by a lack of self-discipline and willpower. Seven in 10 with mental health conditions think that the negative attitudes of co-workers are major barriers to employment.
Employees’ mental well-being has been often overlooked as many people believe that mental illnesses like depression are less “genuine” than clearly physical problems like a broken limb. Many believe that treating mental illness is in the hands of those suffering from it and have frequently regarded their treatment as imprecise and ineffective. With such perceptions, IMH found out that more than three in four with a mental disorder in their lifetime did not seek any professional help.
Individuals with mental health conditions often face discrimination in the workplace as healthy employees and employers are less inclusive towards them. One in two even believe that a person with a mental health condition should not be given any responsibility. This lack of inclusion in the workplace further deteriorates employees’ mental well-being.
So what are the impacts of these on companies? Companies with poor employees’ mental well-being would face higher absenteeism, presenteeism and healthcare costs. Depression in individuals can result in 26 additional absences a year and accounts for an estimated 7% of global payroll, surpassing other disorders. It is estimated that around 30% to 40% of sickness absence is attributable to mental illnesses.
Employees also have reduced productivity and morale which results in more hours than required to complete tasks. In addition, companies have to incur higher costs for medical claims and insurance which can be more than two times higher for employees with mental health conditions as compared to those without.
Hence, it is crucial to be open about mental health and to be supportive to those with mental health issues.