As we embark on a new year, mental health remains a critical concern, particularly in Southeast Asia (SEA), where the demand for understanding and compassionate action continues to grow. Naluri’s third edition of its comprehensive study highlights the ongoing efforts to grasp the region's mental wellbeing complexities. Garnering insights from over 56,000 participants across Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, we’ve amassed a significant dataset that sheds light on key mental health challenges and opportunities for improvement.
Our research focuses on the prevalence of mental health disorders, specifically examining how depression, anxiety, and stress affect workplace wellbeing. We utilised a mixed-method approach, incorporating the DASS-21 assessment for quantitative analysis and qualitative insights through feedback from our coaches and conducted interviews.
Emphasising the importance of mental health awareness, this study champions the cause of reducing stigma, encouraging early intervention, and bolstering community support. Our findings aim to inform and inspire industry leaders to take meaningful actions that foster a healthier, more supportive environment for all, reflecting the evolving dynamics of mental health and underlining our commitment to a more resilient Southeast Asia.
Depression Anxiety and Stress in Southeast Asia
Three years post-pandemic, overall concerns related to COVID-19 are diminishing among Southeast Asians. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that the pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health, particularly in the workplace. This is why tools like Naluri’s Mental Health Assessment, which uses the DASS-21 assessment to evaluate depression, anxiety, and stress, are so essential. By prioritising our mental health and wellbeing, we can work towards a more balanced and fulfilling life, both during and post-pandemic.
Naluri’s Mental Health Assessment is a method of measurement to understand where the local populace stands with mental health issues. Our results showed that many countries in Southeast Asia are dealing with poor mental health to varying degrees. However, we are happy to report that there has been much improvement in 2023 compared to previous years.
Our analysis combined quantitative and qualitative research, consolidating input from coaches and interviews. A closer look revealed that the overall deterioration in mental wellbeing was due to many factors.
However, a few common-thread issues applied to all the countries participating in this survey. Poor work culture and environment, increased workload, and decreased job and financial security.
The state of mental health in Southeast Asia
As mentioned, there are some differences in our scale between the participating countries, and diving into them will allow us to understand the bigger picture.
While we saw increased numbers from 2021 to 2022, the 2023 mental health assessment displayed an improvement in general mental health compared to the previous year.
Despite the positive outlook, there were some issues to highlight in the feedback received. A hostile work environment is one of the reasons for the mental unrest in Malaysia. The country’s economic positioning has forced numerous businesses to re-scale or downsize, leaving existing employees overburdened and many active adults with no source of income. Feedback from our respondents stated that the escalations in this negative environment have caused an ‘eat or be eaten’ type of job environment. However, the need to hold on to a job was overriding the desire for work-life balance, resulting in fractured relationships in their personal lives.
We can conclude that a more holistic approach to management and care by employers might be able to significantly reduce the levels of stress, anxiety and depression in the Malaysian populace, yielding even better results in 2024.
Similarly, Singapore displayed a downturn in poor mental health between 2022 and 2023. Notably, Singapore reports a higher level of depression compared to stress or anxiety in the last year.
Singapore and Malaysia had similar responses about what caused this higher level of depression—most of it is financially motivated. Over the last three years post-pandemic, Singapore’s cost of living skyrocketed, throwing residents into panic. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) reported that the inflation rate in 2022 increased by 6.1% from its average of 1.8%. The financial issues caused a struggle for Singaporeans to manage their lifestyle concerning their finances.
On a personal level, reduced financial stability and mental unrest resulted in difficulties managing expectations and relationships on a personal level—loneliness in a crowd.
On 7 February 2024, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong delivered a speech on Motion on Advancing Mental Health. He said the government would introduce mental health services to all polyclinics and GP clinics, equipping and training an additional 28,000 frontline personnel and volunteers at various community and social service touchpoints to provide early assistance for anyone suffering from declining mental health symptoms.
Taking a turn for the better, Thailand’s mental health assessment campaign yielded the most favourable results in the region, with an average reduction of 20% for depression, anxiety, and stress in 2023.
Feedback from our respondents displayed a higher awareness of mental health amongst the Thai population. While mental health issues may still be present, this new generation of individuals prioritises their mental health and work-life balance.
Common themes for those who did respond to having depression, anxiety, and stress were, again, work-related. Contributors to higher burnout rates include work overloads, conflict and communication issues between managers and colleagues, and family relationship conflicts stemming from increased stress in individuals.
Indonesia, like their neighbours, witnessed a healthy decline in poor mental health amongst the population in 2023. Despite the state of the local environment, Indonesians have shown an aptitude for resilience.
In 2023, Gen-Z comprised 27% of the workforce, and 52% were at risk of burnout. As reported in Mercer’s Health on Demand Report 2023, sales numbers are decreasing, causing more work pressure and a high burnout risk. Respondents are overworked, at the mercy of poor leadership management, and worried about increased inflation costs.
Pending Indonesia’s general election results on 14 February 2024, Indonesians are also concerned about how politics will affect their financial statuses and possible tax increases.
Lastly, our survey respondents highlighted a relatively new issue plaguing the nation: increased debt. Otoritas Jasa Keuangan (OJK), Indonesia’s financial services authority, reported close to Rp20,53 trillion in online loans in August 2023. This new added stressor can be detrimental to the population if it goes unchecked.
Once again, our mental health assessment measured a more positive mental health state in the Philippines. A nation where mental health is not as advanced compared to their neighbouring countries.
Whilst survey respondents highlighted a toxic work environment and employers underpaying for services rendered, they have maintained a certain positivity within the society. Like many Asian countries before them, there is still a stigma attached to mental health and wellness amongst Filipinos, resulting in a lack of support and care given to citizens.
However, on 12 October 2023, the Department of Health (DOH) partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to unveil the 2024-2028 Philippine Council for Mental Health (PCMH) Strategic Framework. This initiative aims to steer the creation and execution of mental health care policies, programmes, and services, tackling the prevalent mental health challenges and enhancing wellbeing nationwide.
A giant stride for a nation that previously had 0.07 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people, the initiative will hopefully bring the Philippines into better mental stability over the next few years.
2023 was the first year that Vietnam undertook the Naluri Mental Health Assessment. While a direct comparison is not possible due to its first-time involvement, we gathered valuable insights from interviews with our Vietnamese respondents.
The number 1 response was stress due to work-related issues in a high-performance working environment—generational gaps in the different working populations and an increased cost of living without increased pay.
In 2023, a National Adolescent Mental Health survey showed that one in five adolescents face a mental health issue, with only 8.4% able to access necessary support services. So, we can surmise that mental health awareness should take a front seat in Vietnam’s future healthcare goals.
What is the impact of workplace culture on mental health or day-to-day?
Workplace culture plays a pivotal role in influencing employees’ mental health daily. A positive culture fosters belonging and motivation, enhancing mental wellbeing. Conversely, a toxic environment can lead to stress and burnout. Recognising this impact is vital for organisations prioritising employee mental health care and overall satisfaction.
Strategies for Promoting Mental Health in any Organisation
Employers can establish a supportive workplace atmosphere through measures like;
- Fostering open communication
- Providing mental health care resources
- Offer flexible work arrangements
- Promote work-life balance
- Recognise employee contributions
- Provide professional development opportunities
- Address workplace bullying and harassment
- Encourage team building and social connection
- Lead by example
- Regularly seek feedback
Consider Naluri as an Employee Assistant Provider, available to help any business put into practice these ideals for a positive work environment.
In the workplace mental health space, individual self-care practices hold immense importance, particularly for leaders within your professional or social sphere. Leaders wield considerable influence over the team dynamics, making their wellbeing essential for overall effectiveness. Prioritising self-care enables leaders to maintain clarity, empathy, and resilience in their roles, fostering a healthier work environment and bolstering productivity and innovation within the team. Thus, investing in leaders’ self-care is not just about personal wellbeing but cultivating a supportive and thriving workplace culture for everyone.
Amid work challenges, employees can prioritise mental wellbeing by setting boundaries, taking breaks, practising mindfulness, seeking social support, and engaging in self-care activities outside of work.
In summary, our annual report on mental health in Southeast Asia provides valuable insights into the prevalence of mental health disorders and challenges faced by employees across the region. It highlights the need for addressing a new culture of implementing strategies to prioritise mental wellbeing. Additionally, the report underscores the crucial role of leaders in fostering a positive workplace environment through individual self-care practices. Overall, the findings call for continued efforts to promote mental health initiatives and support systems for healthier communities and workplaces in Southeast Asia.