KUALA LUMPUR: A mental health advocate estimates mental health issues among employees may have cost the country RM14.46 billion, or 1% of Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018, and says there is a need for effective measures to be put in place by companies.
Relate Mental Health Malaysia (Relate) founder Dr Chua Sook Ning said mental disorders, considered an “invisible illness”, had been on the rise with 10.5% of the population suffering from it in 2005 to 29% in 2015.
Despite this, majority of companies do not know how to deal with employees facing mental health issues.
Due to this, she said, many companies do not hire such employees although they have potential or the workers are given low appraisal scores.
“These employees are seen as less productive and lacking in motivation. But anxiety and depression can be treated with proper support,” she said during a forum on Workplace Mental Health – The Business Costs, here.
She said human resource managers need to know how to deal with mental illness issues so that the companies do not lose talent, adding that trust and support from the management could help employees to overcome their problems.
Chua said mental health could be affected by economic reasons or a traumatic experience but many people were not getting the help they needed.
“Even when they seek help there are repercussions. Staff are asked to resign when they reveal they are seeking help from a psychiatrist,” she said, adding that only 5% of small and medium-scale enterprises were willing to hire those with mental health issues.
She said sometimes employees might be healthy when they were hired but work conditions and stress might cause mental health issues which could include anxiety and depression.
Chua said most human resource managers were reluctant to talk about mental health but it could help to improve productivity when it was discussed openly.
Qualitas Medical Group Occupational Health Services Manager Dr Azwan Abdullah said the initial symptoms for mental health disorders could be headaches, fatigue and body aches.
“But when we see a pattern, we get to know the patient better,” he said, adding that the patient would then be referred to the proper channels for help.
Azwan also said human resource managers needed to know how to identify the problem and provide assistance before it is too late.
Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh said her ministry had received 6,107 mental health cases with the majority requesting for counselling.
“As you increase awareness, the number of reports will increase. Don’t be alarmed,” she said.
However, she said Malaysia was still at the awareness stage and more needed to be done to improve support for those with mental health issues.