'Alarming' mental health issues present in Malaysian workplaces

HR leaders urged to upskill in order to help identify wellbeing issues

'Alarming' mental health issues present in Malaysian workplaces

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) is calling for "greater collaboration" among employers, the government, and trade unions in order to address "alarming" mental health issues in workplaces.

MEF president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman said mental health remains the "least spoken issue among the safety and health officers" who’re tasked to manage safety issues in the workplace.

"This becomes naturally entrenched because it is not part of their training and not covered in detail in the existing OSH Act 1994," Hussain said. “Therefore, the domino effect of this is that issue of mental health most likely remains undetected or [managed] properly at the workplace. This issue is also compounded by the stigma attached to mental health that is often equated to madness, as commonly understood by the society and employees. Due to poor understanding of mental health, it is often regarded as taboo to talk about mental health and to seek professional help."

Read more: Mental health: How to lead by example

According to Hussain, the issue of mental health in workplaces needs to be addressed urgently, as poor mental health management could trigger suicides among employees.

"Based on records, Malaysia recorded a total of 1,142 suicides in 2021. Over the years, the number of suicides has gone up and the workplace needs to respond to this phenomenon,” he said. “If not, employers may lose productive employees. Not just losing employees to suicide, but it may influence the emotions and productivity of the entire workforce. There is therefore an urgent need for greater collaboration between the employees/trade unions, government and employers to address mental health issues at the workplace."

In Malaysia, attempted suicide could land a person in jail and/or incur a fine, making it one of around 20 countries across the world that still considers the act a crime. Moves to decriminalise suicide, however, have already begun, according to health officials.

Read more: Mental health: C-suite struggles in the pandemic

What can employers do?

The MEF underscored the importance of training human resource departments, safety and health departments, the safety and health committee, and medical health units to help identify mental health issues in the workplace.

"Employers should promote good mental health practices and provide tools for recognition and early identification and establish links with local mental health services for referral, treatment, and rehabilitation," Hussain said.

Read more: Mental Health Week: How to spot an employee who's secretly struggling

He said that the safety and health officers as well as the Safety and Health Committee should conduct the following to enhance their roles:

  • identify work problems caused by mental health
  • take action to improve the mental health of employees
  • assist employers in modifying the work and work environment to reduce mental stress
  • enable employees with mental health to remain at work rather than withdraw

According to the MEF, it is part of employers' duty to protect their employees. The federation said that a healthy workforce is a "highly productive workforce."

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