SINGAPORE: A task force has been set up to improve awareness of mental health issues among migrant workers and to provide better support for those who need such care, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Friday (Nov 6).
Named Project Dawn, the 10-member task force involves representatives from the MOM, government psychologists, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), as well as the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) and HealthServe - two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that help migrant workers.
Some mental health support initiatives have been put into place, and HealthServe has been providing tele-counselling services, conducted via Zoom or on the phone with the workers in their native languages.
HealthServe said that it had noticed a gap in this area before the COVID-19 pandemic and was able to quickly extend its nascent mental health programme during the circuit breaker, when coronavirus cases surged among migrant workers and many were quarantined in their dormitories.
MOM has also started training Forward Assurance and Support Team (FAST) officers, who are stationed at dormitories to help migrant workers, in psychological first aid, and will extend such training to all new and existing FAST officers.
Psychological first aid is often used to support people in the aftermath of a crisis and involves giving both emotional support and practical help to them.
More initiatives will be rolled out and the task force aims to implement them by end-2022, said Dr Lam Meng Chon, director (medical) of MOM's Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group as he outlined the task force's implementation plan at a media briefing on Friday.
"We see the implementation of Project Dawn as building blocks - we are first looking at raising awareness in good mental health practices as the base layer ... (then) strengthening primary care to improve access to mental health services," he said.
A third layer of prevention would be to ensure that those who need specialist care get help and continued support for recovery.
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For a start, NGOs such as MWC will include mental health education in its programme to help new migrant workers settle in from next year, while more frontline officers, dormitory operators and employers will be trained to better detect at-risk workers and refer them for care, if necessary.
Social well-being activities such as excursions with managed itineraries will also be organised in the dormitories, MOM added.
"We are working with our frontline teams and NGOs to ... establish peer support networks that can (be) the first line of defence within the dormitories and offer para-counselling," said Dr Lam.
The task force will work with MWC's ambassador network to identify "peer support leaders", as well as recruit recovered workers who are willing to act as intermediaries for their peers.
Mr Bava Sahib, an MWC ambassador for five years and deputy property officer at The Leo dormitory, said that the ambassadors have been helping migrant workers with their issues, such as disputes with employers. During the pandemic, they monitored workers for depression and helped them seek help.
Mr Bava and a fellow MWC ambassador told CNA that the workers faced various stressful challenges during the pandemic.
Besides not being able to go out and meet their friends, some have lost their jobs, some have not been paid their salaries and some have faced difficulty going home despite having urgent family issues.
"We have a large number of ambassadors in the dormitories of different nationalities ... If any workers have any mental pressure or depression, anything ... immediately our ambassadors refer them to us," he said.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng told reporters that moving forward, such mental health support for migrant workers will not just be a permanent feature, but also a "work in progress".
"We're committed to making sure that we're not focused on just the physical wellness but also the mental well-being of the migrant workers. I think that's most important.
"Obviously, this is an ecosystem that is evolving rapidly," said Dr Tan, who added that many organisations, in particular NGOs, have come forward to make this possible, and he hopes more will come forward.
He also said that he hopes people will become more accepting of mental health issues, such as depression, which can happen to anyone due to stressful situations.