Low reported cases don't mask mental health crisis in workplaces - Niosh

Occupational safety and health department urges employers to address stigma, promote workplace mental health

15 Apr 2024 10:14am
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Photo by 123RF.
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Photo by 123RF.

ALOR SETAR - The low number of reported psychosocial cases (mental health issues) in the workplace shouldn't downplay their importance.

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) Deputy Chairman Manivanan Gowin highlighted the stigma surrounding mental health, often labelled as "being crazy."

"Psychosocial issues are a global concern.

"They significantly impact productivity, human capital development, and workplace safety," Manivanan said.

He urged employers in both public and private sectors to raise awareness about mental health in the workplace, particularly identifying symptoms and offering early assistance.

While national occupational disease statistics for 2022 documented only one reported psychosocial case compared to thousands of other occupational illnesses, Manivanan believes the actual number is much higher.

"Based on my experience, mental health issues affect all segments of society and require prompt attention with everyone's support," he said.

Manivanan suggested promoting collaborative social activities in the workplace.

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"Activities like cooking programme or hosting Aidilfitri open houses can reduce stress, foster cultural understanding, and build respect among colleagues," he said.

He linked unaddressed mental health issues to Malaysia's declining ranking in the World Happiness Report 2024 (59th place).

"Singapore ranked 30th, Philippines 53rd, and Thailand 58th," he added.

Manivanan emphasised the importance of employer support for initiatives launched by the Human Resources Ministry (MOHR) through Niosh.

One such initiative is the Occupational First Aid for Mental Health (OPFA) training programme.

Launched in February 2024, OPFA aims to equip workers with skills to provide initial support to colleagues experiencing psychological stress. The programme received overwhelming response, exceeding the initial target of 10,000 participants.

"Nioshwelcomes feedback to improve the OPFA module.

"This is the first programme of its kind in Malaysia, and we are open to collaboration with various stakeholders, including the National Mental Health Excellence Centre," Manivanan said.

He also highlighted Niosh's commitment to strengthening mental health legislation in the workplace and ongoing efforts to enhance staff skills through programmes like the Professional Anxiety Coach.