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Supporting Mental Health in Asia: HR’s Perspective

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In this time of COVID-19, where the new normal is to self-isolate and avoid social gatherings, how do we know if our colleagues and friends are okay?

In Australia, there is a great national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that every day is the day to ask R U OK? ( But how do we do this when we are working across multiple locations and cultures, when there is some social taboo when it comes to talking about our own well-being and mental health and asking others about how they are feeling?

This hit close to home when I spoke with a colleague who was going through some personal problems and was not coping at work. We talked at length about what he was going through, and while I empathised with him, I felt that he needed to speak with someone experienced who could provide him with some mechanisms to get him through. My first thought was a counselling helpline or going to his general practitioner to seek a referral – a typical process for an Australian – but on doing some research, I found that the availability of mental health support was minimal.

In the end, he turned to his family for their support and understanding to get him through the tough times.

By going through this process, it opened my eyes to the many different ways that people deal with mental health issues and the subject of our own well-being. Coming from Australia, it was humbling to see and understand that what I take for granted, i.e. support services and general community understanding, is not standard across all countries.

The prevailing attitude to mental health in many Asian countries in that it is not something to be talked about and is often swept under the carpet with people not wanting to admit that they may be struggling and hesitating to seek or ask for help.

So what can we do?

We are not all going to become instant counsellors or therapists during these times, and we shouldn’t expect that from anyone. But we can help ourselves and others by pointing them in the right direction, and making some suggestions on how they can cope.

There are numerous websites available that offer ways to cope with stress, such as:

  • Taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to the news, including social media
  • Learn how to meditate – even if this just involves taking deep breaths and being present in the moment
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep

We have all seen the multiple videos of people getting together via many social media platforms to sing, play music or even exercise together. In ‘normal’ times, we have those social interactions face to face that can often lift our mood and allow us to talk about how we are feeling.  The rise in on-line exercise and personal training videos gives us a good indication of what people are turning to in these strange times.

For me, this time has allowed me to get into a routine of walking around the neighbourhood and discovering new places. The weekends have me baking bread and going back to the hand kneading method rather than relying on my mixer, which is quite therapeutic and relaxing. Yes – I am one of those people making and using my sourdough starter for baking bread. My challenge is that flour is in short supply here in Singapore!

Many governments are producing toolkits and advertising directed at their local populations.  Singapore has introduced a WhatsApp group that provides updates via messages, including tips on how people will be feeling and what employers and the general public should do to ensure mental well-being. These are a great way to keep up to date with what is going on, and you know it is from a reliable source and not ‘fake news’ that is too easily available on social media.

In the end, there are many ways that we can connect with others and use whatever technology is available to us to keep in touch (MS Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc.) and if things are getting tough, seek out some professional help.

Sometimes, it is just a matter of asking, ‘Are You OK?’ and listening to the other person. Sometimes, it is yourself that needs that quiet moment to take a deep breath and realise that we will get through this together. There are positives that come from this ‘new normal’ like eating better, spending more time with the family and letting the world take a breath due to less pollution in the air.

Remember – take care of yourself, take care of others, and the rest will take care of itself.


Leonie McTaggart
Head of HR Shared Services & Systems