People with mental health issues need 'better jobs', urges President

Singapore's president urges employers to step up

People with mental health issues need 'better jobs', urges President

Employers need to “step up” their efforts to support staffers with mental health issues and offer them “better jobs”, said Singapore’s president.

Halimah Yacob added that more can be done to raise awareness on the topic, as there remains plenty of ignorance.

It is also “absolutely critical” to have more support at the community level, she said.

“We see there's a lot of work in the back-end and front-line jobs like food and beverage, housekeeping or cleaning, but I hope there will be greater quality jobs available to them,” Yacob said.

“There's a lot of people suffering from mental health issues who are very well-qualified and need better jobs.”

READ MORE: Myth-buster: mental health support is bad for business

The president had spoken during a visit to Job Club, a branch of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), which helps individuals with mental health issues return to work, reported The Straits Times. She noted that the body has helped some employees stay with the same employer for more than a decade.

She also emphasised the need to raise awareness around the topic as co-workers play a key role in ensuring individuals enjoy gainful employment.

“I think there's a lot of misunderstanding, misinformation, ignorance about the conditions of people with mental health issues in their ability to work peacefully,” she said.

According to a 2017 National Council of Social Service (NCSS) study, seven in 10 people believe that negative attitudes of co-workers are major barriers to employing persons recovering from mental health conditions.

The president’s observations are timely as a 2018 Singapore Mental Health Study found that one in seven Singaporeans have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetimes, most of whom are aged between 18 and 34.

What’s worse, the persistent stigma around the topic has prevented 86% in the workforce  from seeking help for problems related to mental health. This leads to productivity issues such as absenteeism as well as presenteeism.

READ MORE: Are Singapore leaders doing enough for mental well-being?

This is why advocates such as Dr David C Batman, specialist consultant in occupational medicine at Virgin Pulse, believes the best practice organisations can adopt is to first stop drawing a line between mental and physical health — and simply “talk about health”.

“Mental health is not new — it’s always been around,” Dr Batman said. “You can’t have health without mental health.”

One way to step up efforts and support employees with mental health issues is through leadership, he added.

“The best businesses that really make a difference are those where you’ve got somebody at C-Suite level, and hopefully it’s your chairman, who endorses [the movement],” he said.

“Don’t make it an initiative; don’t make it a program. Make it a lifestyle change, so it’s something that becomes part of your culture… Resilient businesses need resilient employees.”

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