How Asian companies end stigma around mental health in the workplace

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy approximately US$1 trillion each year in lost productivity. It is also predicted that by 2030, mental health problems will be the leading disease in terms of morbidity and mortality, with a hefty price tag of more than US$6 trillion a year.

Mental illness is prevalent among Asia’s workforce. In Hong Kong, 1 in 4 employees have experienced mental health issues; in Malaysia, 1 in 3 adults have a mental health condition. However, mental health treatment is woefully inadequate in Asia Pacific. WHO data (opens a new window) shows that there is fewer than one psychiatrist per 100,000 population in upper middle income Asia Pacific countries.

The impact of poor mental health on the workforce is significant and tangible. In an annual CMHAHK study (opens a new window) in Asia, 83% of employees reported going to work despite symptoms of poor mental health; of these, 76% reported that their performance on those days was not at the level that was expected of them. Additionally, mental health issues (without factoring in suicide) are projected to reduce economic growth in both India and China by more than $9 trillion (opens a new window) between 2016 and 2030.

Though the workplace remains the environment in which many people feel least comfortable discussing their mental health, the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on mental health at work, causing many organisations to step up efforts to address the structural and cultural factors, operating models and behaviours that contribute to mental ill-health.

Businesses are seeking to raise awareness and facilitate the adoption of best practices. To be fully effective, these workplace mental health best practices should be integrated into all elements of a company’s operating model and not be treated as a collection of programmes owned by the HR department.

Investing in good employee mental health will benefit businesses in terms of bottom line, recruitment and retention, and achieving sustainability goals. Employers can start by: -

  1. Examining current working conditions: Employers should first understand relevant regulatory and compliance requirements as well as the general and specific mental health risks their employees are exposed to. They should then conduct a gap analysis in relation to current management of risks and identify room for improvement.

  2. Setting clear objectives: Clear objectives create direction and guidance for the organisation and provide help for managers in determining whether the programme is achieving what it set out to do.

  3. Taking action: Employers should implement preventive measures to address identified mental health risks. Such measures may include training, improved employee access to mental healthcare, assisting with recovery and return to work programmes.

Research has demonstrated the benefits for businesses when they support people’s mental health. WHO estimates that every $1 USD invested into the treatment and support of mental health disorder sees a return of $4 USD in improved health and productivity. A study conducted by Deloitte (opens a new window) also points out that companies with high health and wellness scores have better stock performance.

Mental health programmes aim to break down the stigma around mental health, foster a culture of inclusion and openness in the workplace and assist those in need, and an employer’s active and authentic engagement plays a vital role. If you wish to discuss this with our employee benefits team, please contact:

Stella Sung, Head of Benefits and Health, Greater China & Korea | +852 2250 2831 | (opens a new window)

Rhea Ablan, Head of Employee Benefits, Philippines | +632 811 0388 | (opens a new window)

Rachael Tay, Regional Head of Benefits, Asia Pacific | +65 8869 8592 | (opens a new window)