Today, mental health awareness is at an all-time high worldwide. Even before the pandemic, there seemed to be an increasing number of people who were more open to address and start conversations on mental health issues. One of the most frequently talked-about mental health topic is mental well-being in workplaces. Work is an integral part of adult life, but also a common source of stress for many of us. In order to gain a further, more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between work (in particular, PR work) and our mental health, PRCA APAC had recently published the very first report on mental health.
Between 21 July and 16 August, PRCA Asia Pacific worked with YouGov to survey PR and communications professionals across the Asia Pacific region. A total of 1,187 responses were received from practitioners in Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Below are some of the more important findings we’ve gathered from the report.
Our workplace has a significant influence on our mental health
When asked how much influence the respondents think their workplaces have on their overall mental health, 46% indicated ‘Moderate influence’ whereas 34% indicated ‘Strong influence’. High workload and long hours were the top 2 factors identified as potential triggers of poor mental well-being at work. Practitioners who work extra hours experience a knock-on effect and as a result, they struggle to do things that can be conducive to positive physical and mental health.
Damaging effects of overworking in pandemic times
Overworking, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, prove to be damaging to the respondents’ mental health. Nearly half (48%) of survey respondents report that they are going through a particularly stressful period in their life, with 45% disagreeing, and 7% choosing not to answer that question. It is also worrying to see that in the last 12 months, many of the region’s PR professionals have experienced trouble with sleep, anxiety, feelings of social disconnection or similar.
Identifying mental health issues
On a more reassuring note, the report shows that majority of the region’s PR professionals are confident in being able to identify mental health issues, and are comfortable talking to colleagues about such problems. Overall, 62% agree that they are ‘very well-informed and educated about mental health’ – another 10% disagree, and the remainder are unsure.
Confiding in our colleagues about our mental health state
Out of the 71% of people who had discussed their mental health with one or more colleague in the past year, younger age groups were found to be more likely to have spoken about their mental state to someone at work. Majority of respondents (64%) indicated that it would be likely for them to talk to a colleague if they were faced with a mental health issue in the future. For those who are unwilling to do so, their main concerns were that it would be inappropriate to do so or it would bring negative impacts on their career.
Less optimistic reality with regards to seeking help
Despite a large portion of respondents indicating that they know what they ‘should’ do if experiencing mental health issues, not many actually practice it – 48% suggested seeing a mental health practitioner if they experience feelings of extreme highs and lows, but in reality, only 24% of people who had experienced that in the last 12 months sought a practitioner.
Employees’ performance in addressing mental health at workplaces
Thankfully, 68% of the respondents said that their employees have communicated with staff about mental health during the past year, although a small group have yet to do so. A narrow majority (52%) of respondents overall rated their employer as ‘very good’ or ‘good’ at providing mental health resources, but this figure varies in different markets.
Overall, the region’s PR and communications professionals are positive about their employers’ work both on general company culture, and specific mental health-related measures. The majority (83%) of companies offer at least one type of support – a number rising to 96% in Vietnam but dropping to 75% in Malaysia and Singapore, and larger companies are slightly more likely to provide mental health benefits to staff than smaller firms.
No room for complacency
Overall, respondents also agree that their organisations have been supportive during the pandemic. But a sizable number (40%) say they are not doing enough overall to support mental health – so there is no room for complacency.
“Now more than ever, mental health has to be taken seriously both at home and at work. Awareness is key and communicating ways to approach mental health can be done so in a variety of ways. This can range from weekly team meetings, staff intranets, one-on-ones, monthly wellness workshops and or just basic communication that there is an open door policy between employees and employers that it’s okay to speak up if you are suffering. Participating in or encouraging activities that support mental health within the workplace are important, especially when we are in and out of work-from-home, not taking holidays as there’s nowhere to go and suffering from mental fatigue. This can be anything from getting out of the house for a walk in nature, online team activities to connect, having mental health experts available to speak to, right down to basic things such as understanding each individual’s unique situation and just asking how they are – one size does not fit all. From working mums who simultaneously have to homeschool and work, graduates whose first job out of college starts working from a packed household, to business executives who have pressure to bring in revenue in an unpredictable market – every person’s situation is different and needs a bespoke approach. Business owners and managers also need some form of training or awareness in terms of how to manage situations when staff have mental health problems and steps to take to allow employees to a) feel comfortable speaking up and b) how to best manage their needs. Singapore still has a long way to go compared to the West when it comes to normalising talking about mental health. This in itself needs to be talked about and made the norm, that essentially it’s okay, if you aren’t feeling okay – we are only human.”Lynda Williams, Co-Founder of The Soothe
For more information on the PRCA APAC Mental Health Report 2021, click here.
Two weeks ago, the Singapore government announced an extended ‘circuit breaker’ period in Singapore with the hopes of limiting the spread of Covid-19 — this “soft lockdown” means that the vast majority of the country is working from home, limiting outdoor activities to ‘essentials only’ and for those with access to technology, using those tools to stay in touch with family and friends.
The coronavirus pandemic has not only shaken the economy, but the prolonged period of isolation and social distancing have certainly taken a toll on mental health, giving rise to higher levels of anxiety and depression. Locally, it was reported that over 6,600 calls have been made to the National Care Hotline in Singapore, after it had been set up for just two weeks.
It has never been more important to prioritise our mental health. At V&VPR, we often talk about the importance of holistic wellness and the effects of each choice we make having an impact on our overall wellbeing. It’s understandably easier to care less, or indulge more, when it comes to our food and drink choices these days. Coupled with news of consumer alcohol sales going up during the Circuit Breaker period, we wanted to understand more about the relation between our food and drink choices and our mental health.
We brought together Asher Low, co-founder of Singapore non-profit organisation Limitless — whom V&VPR supports on a pro-bono basis — as well as nutritionist and host, Charlotte Mei, on Instagram Live to chat about their experiences during the Circuit Breaker; tools for coping, and how eating right and working out always makes us feel better. Asher is a certified social worker who founded Limitless to help youths in the fight against mental illness, poverty and social inequality. Follow Limitless on Instagram for the full conversation available soon on IGTV. In the meantime, read on for highlights of the interview.
Part 1: Fighting Cabin Fever — Stay Connected, Keep Moving, Keep Learning
Four weeks into the Circuit Breaker and with another month to go, many of us have started experiencing cabin fever syndrome, a distressing feeling of restlessness and irritability from extended periods of staying indoors. To combat these unsettling feelings, Asher suggests to focus on what you can do instead of what you cannot do: keep in touch with friends and loved ones on a regular basis albeit virtually over the multitude of apps and video conferencing platforms available such as Houseparty and Zoom. Our personal favourite is virtual movie night with Netflix Party. Both Asher and Charlotte support a regular fitness routine for improved mental health — in fact, keep it fun and exercise with friends on-screen to provide you with added motivation!
Another common feeling you may experience in lockdown is a loss of control. It is overwhelming to feel like while you may be doing your best to keep safe and healthy, there may still be other factors outside of your power – for example, having a family member or housemate working in essential services that has a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19, having your entire daily routine turned on its head, or feeling like your space is encroached on since the home is perpetually ‘full’ now. Asher and Charlotte recommend taking back control by focusing on productivity. Choose habits and hobbies that you’ve never tried before such as cooking a new dish outside of your repertoire, learning how to play a music instrument or picking up a new language online. Note that this doesn’t mean you have to be high achieving all the time – setting small goals for yourself is an excellent way of providing a sense of focus and purpose. The objective here is to try — don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve all your goals for the day. “If you slip up or are just having a bad day, it’s okay. Stay positive and pick yourself up,” Charlotte advised. “Look back and find out what your triggers are and come up with solutions to cope with those moments.”
And if you have the privilege of space, having just one spot that solely belongs to you can also drastically help with feelings of control. Whether it’s having your own work desk, your own bed to return to, or a corner of the living room that no one else can intrude upon, can make a significant difference in your mood.
Exercise is also an amazing coping mechanism especially right now as it produces endorphins that trigger positive feelings. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going for a long run or doing an hour-long workout – doing something small is better than doing nothing at all. We enjoy Nike Training Club for its free workouts that start from just 5 minutes! If you’re not feeling up for exercise, how about cleaning up your room instead? Decluttering is a great way to physically and mentally detox, and burn some calories while you’re at it!
Anxiety and feelings of depression are common issues faced by many around the world right now – unsurprisingly, the Limitless team has also been receiving a higher number of messages and calls during the Circuit Breaker period. Asher and Charlotte both agree that a good way to try and overcome the feeling of helplessness is to practice gratitude – don’t dwell on the negatives but instead, try and keep track of the good things. This doesn’t mean to be aloof or avoid the situation, but to take a moment and understand that while it is a difficult time, it is only temporary and there are many things we can look forward to in the future. A few easy ways to practice gratitude: keep a journal and write down three highlights of your day every day — these can be things that you’re grateful for, goals you’ve reached; or as Charlotte has been doing this year, simply write down one achievement — whether you deem them big or small — on your calendar daily.
Part 2: Eat Well, Feel Better
Diet and mental health are very intertwined, and food should be seen as a positive aspect of life. However, in today’s world consuming food is almost always portrayed as a fattening or guilty activity, and this has caused a lot of disordered eating and anxiety in people. Eating right can vastly boost your mental health, and spending some time cooking healthy meals for or with your loved ones can be an excellent bonding activity.
Let’s start by reframing our relationship with food. Charlotte’s key piece of advice is to not have a restrictive diet, instead focus on good ingredients you can add to your meals (rather than reminding yourself of what you shouldn’t eat). Food should be seen as a form of enjoyment, and an activity that brings people together. It is intrinsically good, providing us with the energy and nutrition we need to survive, and we have license to enjoy it to the fullest – but in moderation. “Make peace with your relationship with food, and this will translate to your relationships with people as well,” she says.
The portrayal of healthy eating in the media often calls to mind boring salads, steamed foods and high price points. Charlotte debunks this by noting that healthy food can come in many different forms and cuisines – and can be vibrant and wallet-friendly as well. In Singapore, a common staple for many of us is cai png, which literally translates to rice with dishes, available at almost every hawker centre and neighbourhood coffee shop. This economically friendly meal is not known for being particularly healthy, but Charlotte considers this an acceptable option, if we turn the concept on its head: Based on the plate concept, we swop the ‘base’ of white rice — which usually takes up at least half the plate — for vegetables instead; a quarter plate of rice, and a quarter plate of protein (opt for healthier options like steamed fish, tofu, or stir fried meat). This ensures a nutrient-dense, filling meal.
Right now, making frequent trips to your corner cai png stall may not be the most viable option, so Charlotte also suggests healthy, affordable ingredients to add to your diet at home. As a trained nutritionist, Charlotte candidly states that scientifically, there is no such thing as a ‘superfood’ (Note: We checked, and yes it is purely a marketing term) — so don’t worry about being able to spend on pricier items like chia seeds, kale, and blueberries. We have perfectly nutritious options in our backyard — that is, easily accessible via wet markets and supermarkets. Leafy vegetables like chye sim and watercress, and plenty of fruit like apples and oranges, should form the base of our diets. Canned foods can be healthy as well! It’s not necessary to buy whole fresh fish to get your vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, instead consider shelf-stable canned tuna, mackerel and sardines. Canned beans and canned corn are also an amazing, versatile additions to your pantry.
Want to whip up a quick, deliciously healthy recipe? Charlotte shares her favourite 3-ingredient meal, starring her ultimate go-to ingredient: eggs!
Egg & Cucumber Toast
Time: 10 minutes
- 2 eggs
- Slice of bread — sourdough is ideal, but bread that you have will do
- ½ cucumber
- Using a mandolin or knife, slice cucumber thinly.
- Toast bread (butter optional)
- Prepare eggs to your preference — scrambled, hard boil, poached, etc
- Assemble sliced cucumbers on toast, top with eggs, and add salt and pepper to taste
For more information on Limitless and their services visit their website here.
If you are coping with anxiety and depression, please do not hesitate to reach out to the helplines below.
Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH): 1800 283 7019
Emergency Helpline (IMH): 6389 2222
SOS (Samaritans of Singapore): 1800 221 4444
Check out the rest of our blog here for more tips and inspiration to get you through quarantine.
With travel restrictions in place, cabin fever setting in, and stress and anxiety levels rising, keeping wellness a priority has become more important than ever. Take a mental vacation to some of the world’s most beautiful destinations –– visualising a stress-free place is a simple way to help your whole body calm down and give you the boost you need for the day.
We’ve put together a series of stunning visuals featuring rolling landscapes, ethereal views and remarkable sights that will be just the pick-me-up for you.
Golden rays of sunlight lighting up the sand and sea at Zenith Beach in Port Stephens, NSW.
Plumes of steam rising from chimneys across a coastal town along the Oita Hot Spring Trail with Walk Japan.
A leopard taking a well-deserved rest up on a tree at Singita Boulders Lodge, Singita’s privately-owned reserve within Sabi Sand in South Africa.
Check out the rest of our page here for more mental vacation travel inspiration.
Philanthropy has always been at the core of V&VPR — this has underscored the way we approach our business, from a robust client portfolio of brands that advocate for responsible travel and sustainability, to putting aside hours to volunteer as a team for charitable organisations and non-profits. This year, we are taking this mission one step further, and we are delighted to have partnered on a pro-bono basis with Limitless.
Limitless is a non-profit organization that was founded to help youths in Singapore build hope, find worth, and live destiny-driven lives. Founded by Asher Low in 2016, Limitless strives to offer support to young people who may feel powerless as a result of any number of psychological and societal factors, including poverty, mental illness and social inequality.
According to international statistics, depression is an epidemic, with teenagers and youths in their early twenties being especially vulnerable. Almost 8% of teenagers are affected by depression, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide. Extensive research has also pointed to the fact that a third of young people struggling with depression do not seek help. Left untreated, depression can lead to other issues, including eating disorders, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide.
Through a series of outreach programmes, education, social work, counselling, and mentorship, the Limitless team are aiming to reach youths from all walks of life to inspire, empower and equip them to live purposeful, fulfilled, and happy lives.
The V&VPR team are looking forward to supporting the team at Limitless with their media and communications strategy. If you would like to find out more about their cause and how you can help, please visit https://www.limitless.sg