With an 'always on' corporate culture, Singaporeans have been found to be among the most stressed at work globally, with work as a leading cause of rising stress levels in the country (before financial concerns and health concerns).

Given such findings, it comes as no surprise that a significant amount of health expenditure in the country is related to stress.

In fact, a recently-published report by Cigna and Asia Care Group, titled Chronic Stress: Are we reaching health system burn out? revealed that approximately S$3.18bn, or 18%) of health spending in Singapore is attributed to stress-related conditions.

As such, out of the nine markets covered in the report (Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States), Singapore has the second-highest costs, just behind Australia (18.8%).



Breaking down the common costs

Of the total costs, just over 35% of medical care attendances in Singapore's primary care setting were for stress-related conditions, while a little over 19% of emergency department attendances were for such illnesses. This accounted for about S$22.68mn and S$5.98mn in government and private sector spending, respectively.

On the other hand, these stress-related conditions were less seen in outpatient settings, accounting for just 12% of total outpatient service spending.

While this was so, the report highlighted that stress-related illnesses do represent a significant burden on all parts of health systems, and that medical costs are expected to continue to rise.



Are employees in Singapore seeking help at all?

With stress levels reaching chronic status in some, it does evidently affect both their mental and physical health - such as lower-back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and anxiety. In such cases, is anyone really taking that step to tackle this issue, or are they sweeping the problem under the rug?

Commenting on this, April Chang, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore for Cigna International Markets, says many who experience signs of mental illness still do not seek medical help right away, as they wait to experience physical symptoms first.

"This could be partly due to the fact that in some countries mental health is still considered a taboo subject, and seeking help for physical symptoms has more cultural acceptability. Other factors can influence how and when a person seeks help for a stress-related illness, including the health literacy levels of the individual, service availability and insurance coverage."

"Challenging and breaking taboos will encourage people to seek help earlier, potentially reducing the impact and related cost of stress. Healthcare leaders, government, employers and individuals have a role to play in breaking taboos and encouraging people to talk to someone early and finding solutions."

At the workplace, how then can employers, HR and line managers play a part in helping their stressed-out employees? They have to first identify what the common stress drivers in employees are, and seek ways to address this and support their employees in possible ways. For instance, consider implementing new initiatives such as flexible work arrangements, to stagger employees' workload and working hours.

Further, do make it a point to organise health and wellness programmes which involve exciting physical activities that would encourage and remind staff to take care of their physical wellbeing too.

Photo / 123RF Infographics / Cigna and Asia Care Group