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Singapore announces new measures to provide better mental health support as a national priority

Singapore announces new measures to provide better mental health support as a national priority

"HR leaders play an important role in this ecosystem," affirms Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang.

In a series of moves announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong and Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang, Singapore is doubling down on its efforts to support mental health as a national priority.

In the employment sphere, MOS Gan acknowledges that sometimes, work can be stressful and affect one’s mental wellbeing. Speaking in Parliament on 7 February 2024 (Wednesday), she agreed that "it is thus important that we look at how workplaces can support mental wellbeing of employees, and what each of us can do to create kinder, inclusive workplaces."

In this regard, Singapore currently has the Wellbeing Champions Network in place. Launched by the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, the network is a community of practice for Wellbeing Champions to exchange best practices, and access more resources and training. A Wellbeing Champion is typically a management-level employee or individual whom the company empowers to lead the wellbeing agenda and implement mental wellbeing measures in the company.

Agreeing that every company should have a framework to support their employees’ mental wellbeing, MOS Gan pointed out that employers may refer to the Playbook on Workplace Mental Wellbeing for step-by-step guidance to implement mental wellbeing initiatives.

"HR leaders play an important role in this ecosystem. I encourage more HR professionals to join the Well-being Champions Network."

In that same vein, the Institute of Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) has also established the Body of Competencies (BoC) for HR professionals, which identifies the execution of employee benefits, including mental wellbeing initiatives, as an expected functional competency for HR professionals.

"MOM will continue to partner the IHRP to equip and support the HR industry on this front."

To encourage companies to measure the state of mental wellbeing of its employees, MOM currently has its iWorkHealth assessment tool to help employers better understand their employees’ state of mental well-being, including workplace stressors.

Building on this effort MOS Gan has announced the launch of iWorkHealth Lite; a dipstick survey for companies to gauge their employees’ work stress and burnout, that can be completed in five minutes.

To ensure that time to rest outside of working hours and reasonable working hours are respected, MOS Gan also touched on HR guide to an after-hours communication policy, noting that guidance on implementing this policy can be found in the respective Tripartite Advisory. Looking ahead, the Government will continue to work with the Tripartite Partners, including NTUC, to raise awareness of the importance of setting after-hours work communication policy while managing both employees’ and business needs. Further, the Tripartite Partners are pushing for greater adoption of work-life harmony measures such as health and wellness programmes, and unrecorded time-off for personal and family matters.

Companies interested in subscribing to employee assistance programmes (EAP) may refer to the refreshed EAP service providers list in the Tripartite Advisory, which includes EAP service providers offering subsidised rates, and details of their offerings such as indicative pricings and areas of specialisation.

Apart from EAP services, individuals experiencing mental distress or just need a listening ear, including employees and Self-Employed Persons, can tap on the new National Mental Health Hotline and Text Service from 2025.

Addressing suggestions for a four-day work week, MOS Gan reminds that companies that find four-day work weeks feasible and workable for their business and employees are "free to do so". However, as with any work arrangement, "this may only work well for certain sectors and jobs". Employers are encouraged to proactively discuss with employees the types of flexible work arrangements that suit both their business context and their employees’ specific needs.

In terms of employment and employability, Singapore is hoping to provide greater support for individuals with mental health conditions who are on recovery.

To drive inclusivity in training, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) is working with training providers to:

  • raise awareness of mental health and well-being in adult learners, and 
  • develop customised training courses and increase the accessibility of some mainstream courses to cater to trainees with mental health conditions.

Moving forward, Singapore hopes to help employment support agencies expand their partnerships with trade associations and chambers, to encourage more companies to come onboard to hire and retain employees recovering from mental health conditions.

However, in terms of wage subsidies for these individuals, MOS Gan admits that "It is difficult to calibrate salary support to cater to fluctuations in the condition of the individual." This is due to the fact that mental health conditions vary in severity and fluctuate over time. Per status quo, eligible individuals with mental health conditions are given training allowances as they work on equipping themselves with skills to return to employment.

Lastly, MOS Gan addressed the stigma and potential workplace discrimination associated with mental health.

To this end, case studies and videos are being developed by the National Council of Social Service, together with the Beyond the Label (BTL) Collective Workplace Workgroup members, to increase awareness of best practices of inclusive employment and to guide employers on how to support employees when mental health issues arise. Employers may also refer to NCSS’ Mental Health Toolkit on adjustments they may make for their IMHCs, including having a phased return-to-work programme and providing a buddy or mentor.

NCSS is also working with employment support agencies to develop a common framework to refer, assess, and support individuals with varying readiness to return to work.

On the issue of workplace discrimination, Singapore has announced its upcoming Workplace Fairness Legislation, which sends a strong signal that there is no place for discrimination against employees and jobseekers with mental health conditions.

"Employees should be treated fairly and based on merit even if they have chosen to disclose their mental health conditions."

On a larger scale, DPM Wong acknowledges that mental health has grown in importance, both in Singapore and across the world. He further recognises that mental health encompasses a full range of issues; on one end of the spectrum are mental health issues that require medical treatment, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. On the other end are issues affecting mental wellbeing, such anxiety and stress.

"If not addressed well, poor mental well-being can also affect our ability to lead our lives productively."

Recognising that mental health issues lie on a spectrum, he affirms that a broad suite of solutions is necessary — not all mental health issues need to be treated in a specialist healthcare institution.

"So, improving mental health is not just about hiring more psychiatrists or building more capacity at the IMH."

Particularly, there is also a worrying trend of mental health issues amongst the youth. "We see a similar trend in Singapore. It is not at the same high levels as some countries, where the mental health issues are conflated with other difficult issues like drug abuse, homelessness, and street violence. "

In response, Singapore is collaborating with researchers from around the world to try and understand the root causes behind this recent surge in youth mental health issues.

Against this backdrop, DPM Wong has announced that Singapore will increase capacity at the IMH and the redeveloped Alexandra Hospital for those that need specialist care. Capacity at long-term care facilities will also be increased to provide step-down care for those who need it.

In tandem, the number of public sector psychiatrists and psychologists will also be increased by about 30% and 40%, respectively. All polyclinics, and 900 more GP clinics will offer mental health services. Lastly, Singapore will equip and train an additional 28,000 frontline personnel and volunteers.

Existing efforts will be accelerated: 

  • The Ministry of Education is on track to achieving its target of deploying over 1,000 teacher-counsellors across schools. This is on top of the basic counselling skills that all teachers will be trained in; as well as the one to 2two counsellors that every school will have to support students with more challenging social and emotional needs.
  • Parents will be provided with more resources to support their children’s mental health and wellbeing needs.
  • Singapore will establish more peer support networks in the community, including in schools, Institutes of Higher Learning, workplaces, and amongst national servicemen. These networks will have trained peer leaders who can spread the message on the importance of mental health and provide a first line of response for their friends or colleagues who need help.

"Through these moves, we aim to reduce waiting times, and make mental health services more accessible, and closer to where individuals are, be it at home, schools or workplaces.

"We will ensure that mental health services are affordable, and we will do so through our national healthcare financing framework of Government subsidies and the 3Ms, which will cover all cost-effective mental health treatments."

Lead image / govsg YouTube

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