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Alarming Workers' Mental Health Issues in Malaysia - What Can Everyone Do?

Tue, 25 Jul 2023

Alarming Workers' Mental Health Issues in Malaysia - What Can Everyone Do?

Mental health issues have become an alarming concern in Malaysia.

In the Malaysian workforce, the prevalence of mental health issues has been on the rise. The high levels of stress and anxiety experienced by employees have led to a decrease in productivity and a decline in the overall mental health of the workforce.

Malaysia has experienced rapid economic growth and development in recent years, increasing job opportunities  along the way. However, this growth has also brought about intense competition, long working hours, high-stress levels, and demanding work culture. These factors have taken a toll on the mental well-being of workers across various industries.

In this article, we will delve into the various factors contributing to the mental health issues faced by workers in Malaysia. From the demanding work environment to the lack of awareness and support, we will examine the root causes of this growing problem.

Additionally, we will explore the steps that individuals, employers, and the government can take to improve mental health in the workplace and create a healthier and more productive workforce.

Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in the Malaysian Workforce

The prevalence of mental health issues in the Malaysian workforce is a growing concern that needs immediate attention.

The 2019 Malaysia's Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality survey found that 51% of employees reported experiencing at least one dimension of work-related stress, while 53% reported getting less than seven hours of sleep daily.

Additionally, the staggering impact of absenteeism on organisations resulted in a whopping loss of 73.3 days per employee. It also costs employers RM1.46 million per employee every month.

Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems in the Workplace

Excessive Workload & Job Demands

Employees who constantly work under high pressure may start experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The stress may also trigger other mental health conditions, such as panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lack of Control and Autonomy

When employees feel that they have no say in decision-making processes or that their opinions are not valued, it can lead to frustration and powerlessness.

Poor Work-Life Balance

When employees are unable to find a balance between their work and personal lives, it can lead to chronic stress and negatively impact their mental health.

Lack of Social Support

When employees feel isolated or unsupported by their colleagues or superiors, it can increase feelings of stress and anxiety.

This can cause stress, low self-esteem, and decreased motivation, which can, in turn, harm the employee's mental health.

Inadequate Compensation

When employees struggle to meet their financial obligations, it can lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression.

Effects on Personal Lives and Productive Workforce

On a personal level, individuals dealing with mental health issues may experience a decline in their quality of life.

Common symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and burnout can affect their relationships, physical health, and overall well-being. This, in turn, can decrease their productivity and ability to perform at their best in the workplace.

Furthermore, the effects of mental health issues extend beyond the individual to impact the entire workforce. A significant increase in absenteeism and presenteeism is observed when employees struggle with mental health challenges.

Also, companies experience higher healthcare costs, decreased productivity, and increased turnover rates. Moreover, the overall work environment can become more stressful and less supportive, exacerbating employee mental health issues.

Syed Hussain Syed Husman’s Perspective on Malaysian Workers’ Mental Health Issues

Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman, the President of the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), has called for prioritising mental health problems at work to ensure a productive workforce.

He highlights the potential consequences of inadequate management of mental health, including the risk of employees attempting suicide. The alarming increase in suicide rates in Malaysia, with 1,142 reported cases in 2021, further emphasises the urgency of addressing mental health issues in the workplace.

In an earlier workshop on "Behaviour and Mental Health in Organisation" organised by the University of Malaya, Syed Hussain observed that Safety and Health Officers (SHO) did not adequately discuss mental health concerns.

He suggests that the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act 1994 and the training of SHOs need to address mental health issues more comprehensively. This would help raise employee awareness and ensure that mental health is taken seriously in the workplace.

Syed Hussain also proposes engaging with employers to modify the work environment so that individuals with mental health issues can continue working instead of being sent home. He emphasizes that a healthy workforce is highly productive, highlighting the need for action at both the individual and organizational levels.

What Can Everyone Do?

When addressing the alarming mental health issues faced by workers in Malaysia, everyone can play a role in making a positive impact. Here are some actionable steps that individuals and organisations can take:

1. Foster open communication

Encourage employees to openly discuss their concerns, stressors, and mental health challenges. Create a safe and non-judgmental space where employees can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of repercussions.

2. Provide mental health resources

Offer access to mental health resources such as counselling services, employee assistance programs, or online self-help tools. These resources can help employees cope with stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

3. Promote work-life balance

Encourage employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance by setting clear boundaries between work and personal life. Encourage them to take breaks, use their vacation days, and avoid working excessive hours.

4. Offer flexible work arrangements

Consider implementing flexible work arrangements such as remote work options, flexible scheduling, or compressed work weeks. These arrangements can help reduce stress and improve work-life balance.

5. Train managers and supervisors

Provide training and education to managers and supervisors on recognising signs of mental health issues, managing workplace stress, and supporting employees effectively. Equip them with the skills to have open and supportive conversations about mental health.

6. Promote a positive work culture

Foster a positive work culture that values and supports employee well-being. Recognise and reward achievements, encourage teamwork, and promote a healthy work environment free from discrimination and harassment.

7. Implement wellness programs

Offer wellness programs focusing on physical and mental well-being, such as yoga classes, mindfulness workshops, or employee wellness challenges. These initiatives can help reduce stress and promote a healthy lifestyle in the workplace.

8. Regularly check in with employees

Conduct regular check-ins with employees to assess their well-being and identify signs of distress. Encourage managers and supervisors to have one-on-one meetings to discuss workload, stressors, and employee concerns.

10. Lead by example

As an employer, lead by example and prioritise your own mental well-being. Demonstrate healthy work habits, take breaks, and encourage self-care. When employees see their leaders prioritising mental health, they are likelier to do the same.

9. Reduce stigma

Very importantly, create a culture where mental health is openly discussed and destigmatised. Encourage employees to seek help when needed and educate them about available resources. Promote awareness campaigns and initiatives to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

Tips for Employees to Improve Their Own Psychological Wellness

1. Recognize and manage stress

Stress is a common factor contributing to mental health issues. Employees should identify the sources of their stress and find healthy ways to manage it.

This can include practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and meditation or engaging in hobbies and activities that bring joy and relaxation.

2. Maintain a healthy work-life balance

Striking a balance between work and personal life is essential for mental well-being. Employees should set boundaries and avoid bringing work-related stress home.

Allocating time for family, friends, hobbies, and self-care activities can help maintain a healthy work-life balance.

3. Seek support and communicate

It is crucial for employees to communicate their feelings and concerns with trusted colleagues, friends, or family members.

Sharing experiences and seeking support can provide a sense of relief and help individuals realise they are not alone. Talking to supervisors or human resources about work-related stressors can also help.

4. Practice self-care

Engaging in self-care activities is an effective way to prioritise mental health. This can involve regular exercise, a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, and participating in activities that bring joy and relaxation. Engaging in hobbies, pursuing personal interests, and taking breaks when needed are all important aspects of self-care.

5. Set realistic goals and expectations

Set achievable goals and exceed expectations, leaving stress behind and skyrocketing your productivity.

Break down intimidating tasks into manageable, bite-sized goals and witness your stress levels plummet. It's your moment to shine!

Celebrating achievements, no matter how small, can also boost morale and contribute to positive mental well-being.

6. Seek professional help when needed

If employees find that their mental health issues impact their daily life and well-being, seeking professional help is highly recommended. Mental health professionals, such as counsellors or therapists, can provide guidance and support tailored to individual needs.

Malaysian Government's Role in Improving Mental Health Practices

The Malaysian government plays a crucial role in addressing and alleviating mental health issues in Malaysia. However, much more needs to be done to improve the mental healthcare system and support those struggling with mental health conditions.

One of the critical areas where the government can make a difference is addressing the stigma surrounding mental health.

Currently, there is a lack of understanding and awareness about mental health in Malaysia, leading to a taboo around discussing and seeking help for mental health issues.

The government can take steps to educate the public, including implementing mental health education programs in schools and workplaces, as well as conducting awareness campaigns to destigmatise mental health problems.

Also, in a significant move, Malaysia has decriminalised suicide attempts by dropping a provision in the Penal Code that categorised it as an offence on 22 May 2023.

The unanimous vote in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of parliament, to abolish Section 309 of the Penal Code was seen as a positive step towards providing support and assistance to those in need. The provision previously stated that individuals who attempted suicide could face up to one year of imprisonment, a fine, or both.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Legal and Institutional Reforms), Ramkarpal Singh, expressed his belief that the abolition of Section 309 would encourage individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts to seek help and support.

He emphasised that medical treatment, rather than prosecution, is the most effective approach to address this issue, citing the experiences of other countries.

In addition to decriminalising suicide attempts, the Dewan Rakyat also passed the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment No 2) Act, which complements the amendments made to the Penal Code. This act criminalises the abetment of suicide attempts by children or individuals lacking mental capacity.

To ensure that individuals facing mental health problems receive the necessary support, several helplines and organisations are available, including the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service, Talian Kasih, JAKIMs Family, Social and Community care centre, and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur.


Workers in Malaysia are facing severe mental health issues that require immediate attention. The government has addressed these issues by implementing various psychosocial support services, such as the helpline and workplace mental health programs.

However, the cost of treatment and limited accessibility remain significant barriers to accessing mental health services. Individuals must be aware of the available government initiatives and utilise them when needed.

At Upscale, we believe that by matching talents with opportunities, we can create a better future for everyone. Supporting skills and companies with the right strategies would ensure they strive to reach their full potential.

Reach out to us at upscale.my so we can discuss further on how we can make an impact together.