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The Downside of Mental Health Awareness

Have you ever filled up a job application form that has a declaration page? Did you notice a sentence asking if you have ever experienced any mental illness? Now imagine if you are suffering from a form of mental illness or had it 10 years ago, what are you going to do? Declare or not to declare?

We’ve seen many movements focusing on mental health awareness spurring in recent years. These movements are advocating for people to be aware of the severity and how common mental health issues are as well as the urgency to tackle these issues. Nonetheless, more people are coming out from their hiding shell and are more comfortable in telling others that they have or had mental health problem. However, what are the adverse effects of coming out in a country that is yet to mature in the area of mental health awareness?

According to the Ministry of Health, Malaysia, 1 n 3 Malaysians are suffering from some form of mental health issues. To illustrate, lets say if you stand in a line and count sets of 3 and you’re the lucky number 3, according to statistics, you suffer from some form of mental health issues. This means, if you are looking for a job, you will most probably face the dilemma of having to choose between declaring your mental health status.

This happened to me when I was filling up tones of forms while applying for job after graduation. It triggered me on the purpose of this declaration. Will one be discriminated or be supported? Will one be sued or laid off the job if did not declare it? What will happen and what must one do? With a mind of a researcher (I love research) I decided to start on a journey to dig out answers. First on foremost, I approached career counsellors as well as career advisers, HR executives, head hunters and lastly, general public. I mean, one must get a holistic view and opinion right?

General answer that I’ve got was to HIDE IT!!! To quote one of them ” Hide it if you want to get in.” I was surprised not with the answers although some did say “Declare in because if not you’ll risk getting sued later on.” So either way, its bad. It got me thinking, I can’t be the only one concern about this right? There must be more to it. So, despite being a psychology graduate student, for the first time ever, I set out to look into employment and mental health.

There, I found out that I am not alone and this has been a problem for a very long time. In fact, most people would just hide it. Nevertheless, it created problems for employers. For instance, in an interview conducted by Malaysian Digest with a senior HR of Bintai Kinden Corporation Berhad, published in May 2017, the interviewer revealed a troubling scenario that the company faced due to an employee suffered from schizophrenia and the company wasn’t aware of it. Now, like many companies, they would send all their employee candidates for counselling before they start work. What do this means to the 1 in 3 Malaysian who are suffering from some form of mental health issues? Say bye-bye to job?

Is that even possible when treatment and/ or therapy is so costly? On average, it cost RM200 for a session of psychotherapy. Depending on the need of the client, this means an average of RM200-RM800 per month. It may be even more for those who are receiving medication. Can a jobless person afford the very much needed treatment? Mental health issues affect not only the individual or company alone but the whole economy. In July this year, Forbes reported that depression cost around 200 million workdays which amounts to 17-44 billion USD in lost productivity, citing the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That is a HUGE amount of loss.

If you think, “WOW! That is a LOT of money.” Yup. You are right. But in year 2020, it is likely to be more. The chairman of National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Malaysia, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, said that mental illness is expected to be the number 2 health problem in Malaysia (number 1 being heart disease). Now, if people are not getting jobs or are losing jobs, not getting proper treatment due to not having an income and with the increasing stress in life, the numbers are going to increase tremendously. How much more are we going to lose due to a treatable and preventable problem? How long can we ignore this problem?

If I am an employee in such company, I would live in fear of losing my job. And when I have a breakdown, I would try my level best to conceal it and this also means not being able to take a leave to recuperate (there is only that many leave one can take in a year right?). Not only that, I will not be having support or even being able to tell someone in the company that I am struggling. This is T.O.R.T.U.R.E.

Finally, after months of reading, dreading negative news, something positive came to light. If you’re active on social media, you’ve probably heard or familiar with this

“Hey team, I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully, I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%” as well as the positive reply from the writer’s (Madalyn Parker) CEO (too long please Google Madalyn Parker, mental health leave for full story). It is AMAZING news to know that this awesome, supportive and understanding CEO exist!!! More good news is that, there are other companies such as Unilever and PwC , taking the first steps to develop mental health initiatives for their employees.

A quick check on Unilever’s website gives us more good news. With initiatives to provide better work environment such as providing safe and adaptable work practices, providing autonomy and flexible work arrangements, Unilever’s 83, 000 employees covering 70 countries worldwide are able to deliver at high level. It was reported that with every 1 Euro spent on the programmes, they see a return of 2.57 Euro. Isn’t that simply awesome?

Recently, PwC announced a firmwide holiday (Yup. They’re shutting down for a week) between Christmas and New Year so that their employees could “relax and recharge” themselves to help deliver better next year. In addition, PwC has a campaign called “Green Light to Talk” that encourages their employees to be “open and honest about mental health at work” (Daisy Abbott, senior associate with the people and organization).Reviews by their employees has been very positive. As one of their employees, Philippe Guijarro stated in PwC’s website, the campaign helped him and he is now in a much better place.

Now based on these encouraging statements that is good for everyone and even the company, why shouldn’t organizations in Malaysia start to move towards the direction that provide a better work environment for their employees that could not only produce a happy work place but also increase productivity of their employees and even the employers? Let us not turn a blind sight on the importance of mental health. Awareness on its own is not enough. Acceptance and support are needed parallel with the awareness created.








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