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Two years on, how is Asia's workforce coping with the mental health fallout of the pandemic?

Two years on, how is Asia's workforce coping with the mental health fallout of the pandemic?


Three in five (61%) respondents in Asia found it hard to 'wind down' in the week preceding the survey, as a result of feeling low or agitated.

AXA has released it's 2022 Study of Mind Health and Wellbeing, with over 11,000 participants surveyed in 11 markets across Asia and Europe. 

Per the study, Hong Kong respondents reported the highest rate of severe stress - equal only to the UK. More than half (54%) of Hong Kong-based respondents indicated they had experienced high levels of stress in the last year. The remaining 16% and 8% also indicated they experienced anxiety and depression respectively. 

Furthermore, when asked to ranked their wellbeing across four bands of "mind health" which was AXA's choice of words to describe mental health, 39% of respondents from Hong Kong admitted they were simply "getting by". Reflecting on a larger scale, the largest proportion of survey respondents globally were just getting by, counting for one-third of those questioned.

The four bands of mind health (also known as mental health) highlighted were: flourishing, getting by, languishing, and struggling.

Overall in Asia, 61% of respondents found it hard to 'wind down' the week preceding the survey. As such, the survey found that Asian countries were under slightly more stress than Europe, particularly in Hong Kong. 

*Note: While the Asia edition of this survey was conducted across respondents from China, Japan, and Hong Kong, HRO believes the findings would be applicable to the wider audience in Southeast Asia given the spotlight on resolving mental health concerns of the workforce.

Surprisingly, given these conditions, Hong Kong had the lowest percentage of previous mental health conditions among those surveyed. It also recorded relatively few current illnesses, with the second-lowest number behind Japan. The study also observed that, when under stress, respondents in Hong Kong were the least likely to dwell on the sort of negative thoughts that make it hard to move on.

Overall in Asia, 62% of respondents trusted family and friends to provide mental health support. 

On the other hand, 32% of Hong Kong respondents felt that their employers offer good mind health support - one of the lowest. Fewer in Hong Kong and Japan claimed to have the right work-life balance than anywhere else apart from Germany, and they had the smallest number of people who said their workplace culture was positive. Allison Heiliczer, Hong Kong-based psychotherapist and counselor, comments: “There’s still a huge amount of stigma attached to mental illness. It’s often coded as weakness, and each mental health issue bears a different weight."

When asked further about work, 44% of Hong Kong respondents admitted to feeling uncertain about their career prospects, the second highest out of all territories. 

The study also looked into mental wellbeing by gender. Comparatively, more female respondents indicated negative impacts in financial security, while more male respondents indicated positive impacts. As such, job and income security has been more of an issue for women than men. According to the survey, more women lost their jobs or were put on reduced hours because of the pandemic. 

Does living away from home worsen mind health?

Of the 11,000 people surveyed, nearly 1,500 were living outside their own country (i.e. non-natives). Results from the survey show that this group was less likely to flourish and more likely to experience stress, probably the result of higher job insecurity and having less of a social network in a foreign country. More than a quarter of non‑natives – 27% – said they’d lost work hours as a result of the pandemic.

Overall, only one in six non-natives fell into the flourishing category, compared with a quarter of those living in their home countries.

Local findings: China

  • China has the largest number of people said to be getting by.
  • It scored highest among those believing empathy had increased during the pandemic.
  • In the workplace, employees were the most likely to be stressed by the number of hours they are expected to work.
  • Beyond that, the workplace fared exceptionally well. Chinese employees felt safer than any other nationality from bullying and harassment. They also registered the most positive workplace culture, were most likely to enjoy a good work-life balance and were more confident than other countries that their employers provided adequate mind health support.

Local findings: Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong reported the highest rate of severe stress, equal with the UK.
  • The territory also had the highest level of stress-related conditions, topping the list of people saying they had been stressed in the week before the study.
  • However, mental illnesses aren’t as well managed as elsewhere. In all, just 41% of those polled said their past mental conditions had been well managed.

Local findings: Japan

  • Japan had the lowest percentage of people who felt self-aware and the lowest number of flourishers. Far more Japanese fell into the languishing category.
  • That said, Japan was one of only two countries – along with Belgium – where women flourished more than men.
  • Mind health was further down the list of concerns, ranking fifth as the area most affected during the pandemic, trailing the economy, employment and travel.
  • The Japanese felt they were the least supported in the workplace and the least likely to turn to family or friends when they are struggling.
  • Only 15% of Japanese agreed their public health system offered adequate help to those with mental ill-health, the lowest in the study..

 Lead photo / Provided by AXA

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