People with mental health conditions lack opportunities even as firms try to embrace inclusivity
Despite more companies making efforts, only two in five workers in Singapore feel that their employers provide adequate support for mental well-being.
SINGAPORE: Work opportunities for people with mental health conditions may not be easy to come by, but one organisation is helping to train and connect them with employers.
The Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) MINDSET Learning Hub has coached about 900 people who are at risk of, or recovering from, mental health conditions since it was established six years ago.
The organisation, a collaboration between MINDSET Care Limited and SAMH, partners with employers in industries such as cleaning, food and beverage, and retail to boost employment opportunities for its trainees.
However, even as more employers are open to offering positions to these job seekers, there is still a lack of opportunities, especially in white-collar professions, it said.
A TEA BAR RUN BY THE DIFFERENTLY-ABLED
One employer providing jobs for the differently-abled is Hush TeaBar. There, patrons can experience having a silent cup of tea led by the deaf, and supported by persons with mental health conditions.
Beyond hiring them, the firm – founded by mental health advocate and former Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong – offers benefits such as flexible work arrangements and a trust-based leave system where medical certificates are not required.
This was particularly important for Hush TeaBar employees like Ms JJ Goh, an engagement and experience curator who is recovering from depression and borderline personality disorder.
She said that a flexible arrangement helps ease stress and keeps her in the job.
"I had to quit my initial job during the long-term treatment, and that's kind of unhealthy. I mean, if let's say you were to keep changing jobs, it also kind of adds extra mental health stress," she told CNA.
MEETING MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS NOT AN EASY TASK
However, meeting each employees' spectrum of mental and emotional needs is not an easy task, especially more so for those suffering from mental health or other conditions.
"Confidence can be lacking generally as a team. Only because they've been marginalised, maybe for a big part of their lives," said Ms Ong of her employees.
"We still have those interpersonal challenges … we are also more emotionally intense," she added. "Understandably, you know, because all of us are a bit more sensitive because of what we've come through … These would be some of the challenges that we have as a team of differently-abled people."
Ms Ong, whose own experiences with mental health conditions and the healing process motivated her to set up the tea bar, said she hopes that companies go beyond employment to focus on empowerment.
To promote self-care and empathy, the tea bar provides counselling sessions to help employees better understand and support each other.
Mr Low Kok Wah, deaf lead at Hush TeaBar’s department of engagement and experience, told CNA in sign language that the sessions helped colleagues who are hearing-impaired and those who are suffering from mental health conditions see similarities though their differences.
"I felt more aware of their mental health and started to show my support for them, although the road ahead is rough because of their mental health conditions, just as it is for me, a deaf person." Mr Low signed.
MORE FIRMS INTRODUCING WELFARE POLICIES
With mental well-being increasingly seen as essential for retaining employees and boosting productivity, more companies are introducing welfare policies, said Ms Jaya Dass, managing director of permanent recruitment in Asia Pacific at recruitment company Randstad.
"Companies are making provisions in the workplace to take a more holistic approach on what it means to employ a person," she said. "To keep (people) engaged and employed and producing wealth over a longer period of time, means that (they) take an active care in (their) personal lives."
For instance, Otsuka Pharmaceutical, whose products include sports drink Pocari Sweat, has made working from the office optional for its employees in Singapore, and holds weekly engagement sessions for team leaders to check in on employee morale.
But despite more companies making efforts, only two in five workers in Singapore feel that their employers provide adequate support for mental well-being, a recent study by the National Council of Social Services found.
A lack of understanding of what employees really need is likely why workers do not resonate with the benefits provided, said Ms Dass. She recommended engaging professional advisors to address the gap.
"I think the first thing a company needs to do is maybe get an outside-in approach, where they get consultants or support to basically indicate and help them redesign the benefits that they offer people and what is actually required for mental health support," said Ms Dass.
"It all starts with an education and an understanding of what they're dealing with and how this impacts the employees on a day-to-day basis and the people who surround them."
PUSH FOR MORE WORKPLACE INCLUSIVITY
More companies are gradually making greater efforts to encompass inclusion and diversity in their policymaking and processes to hire those with different needs, said Ms Dass.
Persons with mental health conditions sometimes find interactions difficult, but many of them are equipped with the skills to contribute in workplaces, said Dr Geraldine Tan, principal psychologist at The Therapy Room.
"With human relationships or social relationships, they find it a little bit more difficult. But with a lot of understanding from the environment, they blossom, they can contribute because they have the capability and skills," said Dr Tan.
She added she hopes to see the stigma surrounding mental health fade and become a condition that is accommodated by employers and workspaces in Singapore.
"Imagine if we are able to give them that space and nurture them in our environment or in the work environment," she said. "The amount of work that they can contribute or the level that they can contribute is going to bring so much more benefits to the society and into the organisations," she said.