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Company leaders should go beyond initiating mental health initiatives and speak up about own struggles: TODAY webinar panellists

SINGAPORE — As more companies look to establish mental health initiatives in their organisations, implementing such services should not be seen as a “band-aid solution” to addressing employees' mental health.

Company leaders should go beyond initiating mental health initiatives and speak up about own struggles: TODAY webinar panellists

From left: Moderator Elizabeth Neo, TODAY journalist Natasha Meah, founder of counselling service Talk Your Heart Out, Ms Shilpa Jain, as well as mental health researcher at the University of Sydney Jonathan Kuek.

  • The third of TODAY’s Live webinar series on Nov 26 looked at Covid-19’s impact on mental health
  • A founder of a counselling platform said that company leaders must share their own mental health struggles
  • This would help to encourage employees to seek help for their own mental issues
  • A mental health researcher said that gender norms make it difficult for men to speak up about their mental health issues, but this is changing
  • Exposure to negative news on social media could also be stressful for individuals during the pandemic, panellists said

 

SINGAPORE — As more companies look to establish mental health initiatives in their organisations, implementing such services should not be seen as a “band-aid solution” to addressing employees' mental health.

Rather, company leaders should open up about their own mental health struggles to encourage staff members to seek help, a panellist said during TODAY’s Live webinar on Friday (Nov 26).

Addressing the question on whether bosses should be intentional in prioritising employees’ mental health, Ms Shilpa Jain, the founder of online counselling platform Talk Your Heart Out, said that she had observed many companies turning to her firm recently for help in establishing mental health initiatives.

While it is an important step in making mental health support accessible and affordable to staff members, it takes more to change attitudes towards mental health within an organisation, she said.

“What’s important is that the leadership put their weight behind any mental health initiatives that they are implementing, and it is not just a human resource function within the firm that is talked about a little bit and then forgotten by the wayside.”

Ms Shilpa was one of three panellists taking part in the third instalment of this year’s webinar series, which touched on Covid-19’s impact on mental health.

Friday’s webinar was streamed at 8pm on TODAY’s Instagram and TikTok accounts.

The event was moderated by CNA presenter Elizabeth Neo and also featured mental health researcher Jonathan Kuek and TODAY journalist Natasha Meah who has written about mental health issues.

Among the various issues that the panellists touched on was that of coping mechanisms people turned to during the pandemic.

A survey by TODAY of 1,066 respondents, between the ages of 18 and 34, found that many have turned to various coping mechanisms — both healthy and not-so-healthy — to tide themselves through the pandemic.

Conducted in early October, the TODAY Youth Survey 2021 found that among the list of coping mechanisms respondents could choose from, the top three were exercising (53 per cent), talking to loved ones (52 per cent) and shopping (46 per cent).

Addressing the results, Ms Shilpa said that this could be because these strategies are more familiar to people, more accessible and easier to experience immediate benefits from them.

For example, individuals usually experience a dopamine surge right after exercising or shopping. This could also explain why meditating or going for therapy were not as popular among survey respondents because the benefits are less tangible, Ms Shilpa added.

Ms Natasha pointed out that there were differences in the coping mechanisms that different genders adopted.

The survey results had shown that women preferred speaking to friends or loved ones or shopping to cope with the stress of the pandemic, while men preferred meeting new people.

She said that this could be due to men not having strong social networks as an outlet to share their sorrows.

The other panellists said the results showed that gender norms and expectations still remained in society.

Ms Shilpa recounted a recent episode where a male client had felt embarrassed about approaching her for therapy. The episode showed that men might view seeking therapy as a weakness.

Agreeing, Mr Kuek said that despite various efforts by organisations to create a more gender-neutral society, there remains embedded gender norms within the Asian culture.

But things are “changing quite a bit”, he said.

“There are many (men) in positions of power who are speaking up about their vulnerabilities and… hopefully, that will lead to more men willing to talk about these issues openly.”

ACCESSIBILITY AND AFFORDABILITY OF THERAPY

Panellists also agreed that the lack of affordability and accessibility of mental health services prevented people from seeking help despite wanting to do so.

TODAY’s survey had found that while 66 per cent of respondents were willing to seek mental healthcare, only 12 per cent said that they had done so.

People also have preconceived notions about how severe their mental health conditions had to be before seeking help, Ms Shilpa pointed out.

SOCIAL MEDIA

With more people turning to social media to stay connected during the pandemic, the panellists discussed about whether this had a negative or positive impact on individuals’ mental health.

Ms Shilpa said that social media could have a negative impact if it is used to achieve external validation or for mindless scrolling. However, using it to keep in touch with friends or to take part in a social cause could positively contribute to mental health.

Sharing her own experience, Ms Natasha said that she had deactivated her Instagram social media account several months ago. Constant exposure to negative news on the pandemic, as well as viewing people in other countries living with relaxed Covid-19 restrictions left her feeling down.

Mr Kuek said that constant exposure to negative news during the pandemic made people realise that they did not live in a safe world. This can become highly stressful for some people over time.

On whether the pandemic has led people to become less sociable and if there would be a long-term impact, Ms Shilpa believed that people, especially youth, will be able to “bounce back” once restrictions ease.

However, both Ms Natasha and Mr Kuek noted that it may take time for some to readjust again.

Ms Natasha said that re-entering society after a prolonged period of isolation may not be easy for some people since they have developed other norms of communicating with people, such as through text messages. 

Having to socialise face-to-face again could leave some people worried about being judged by others for their image or experiences over the pandemic, she added.

Mr Kuek agreed that the pandemic may have made it harder to build effective social connections. The mask, for example, had made it difficult to read another’s facial expressions.

“It will definitely take time to adapt back to socialising after the pandemic,” he said.

Related topics

TODAY Youth Survey Covid-19 mental health workplace social media

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