Mental health issues cost economy RM14.46bil in 2018, estimates NGO

From left Qualitas Occupational Health Services Manager Dr Azwan Abdullah Al-Hadi, Sunway Group chief Human Resources officer Foo Shiang Wyne, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh, Relate founder Dr Chua Sook Ning, Mental health advocate Dr Nurashikin Ibrahim, and Subang Jaya assemblymen Michelle Ng Mei Sze.

KUALA LUMPUR: Mental health issues plaguing the nation's workforce may have cost the economy as much as RM14.46bil, or more than 1% of Malaysia’s total gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, according to a study by Relate Mental Health Malaysia (Relate).

The study titled “Workplace mental health - The business cost”, had estimated the productivity and business costs of mental health problems based on three factors - staff turnover, absence and presence (working while unwell).

It is estimated that RM9.84bil (68%) was lost due to employees working while unwell, RM3.28bil (23%) due to absence, followed by staff turnover at RM1.34bil (9%).

“The total business cost can be broken down to these three segments and it adds up to RM14.46bil.

“I want to emphasise here that this is a very conservative estimate. If you look at global trends, it’s much higher, ” said Relate founder Dr Chua Sook Ning.

She was speaking along with Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh during a press conference held after “The Business Costs of Mental Health” forum at VE Hotel and Residences in Bangsar on Monday (Feb 17).

The report, citing the World Health Organisation, estimated that depression and anxiety cost US$1.15tril (RM4.76tril) in productivity across the world annually.

Prior to the press conference, Dr Chua was speaking along with Qualitas Occupational Health Services Manager Dr Azwan Abdullah Al-Hadi and Sunway Group Chief Human Resources Officer Foo Shiang Wyne.

According to Dr Chua, employees in Asian countries are likely to show physical symptoms such as fatigue and muscle aches, rather than conceding that they are either depressed or anxious.

“If you have an employee who’s in a lot of physical pain, that could be a warning sign. They also start to zone out, miss deadlines and becoming more forgetful.

Dr Chua also said that employees are reluctant to seek help due to a false cultural suspicion that there is a lack of confidentiality when they choose to confide.

At the same time, Dr Chua pointed out that mental disorders have been on the rise with 10.5% of the population suffering from it in 2005, to 29% in 2015.

She lamented that many companies do not know how to address employees with mental issues despite the rising figures, adding that this had caused many individuals with the potential to miss out on job opportunities, or workers to be given low appraisal scores.

Meanwhile, Dr Azwan, said that very few health insurance providers include mental health as part of their coverage, and pointed out that there isn’t specific legislation which compels an employer to address workplace mental health issues.

“So, we are facing a hard situation at the ground level to execute programmes in regards to mental health, ” he said.

Meanwhile, Yeoh, in her speech, said employers must be proactive enough to address the issue of mental health in their respective companies.

“Don’t wait for the government to come up with guidelines, policies and laws. It will take time.”

After her speech, Yeoh also donated RM5,000 to Relate in her capacity as a deputy minister.

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