Employers should offer more 'quality jobs' to those with mental health issues: Halimah

Mental health is the focus of President's Challenge 2019 and President Halimah Yacob said the main focus should be on encouraging greater job opportunities for persons suffering from mental health issues. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - President Halimah Yacob on Thursday (July 18) urged more employers to step up and offer "quality jobs" to those with mental health issues.

She said: "We see there's a lot of work (for them) in the backend and front-line jobs like F&B, housekeeping or cleaning, but I hope there will be greater quality jobs available to them.

"There's a lot of people suffering from mental health issues who are very well qualified and need better jobs."

She was speaking during a visit to Job Club, a branch of the Institute of Mental Health's (IMH) occupational therapy department, which helps those with mental health issues return to the workforce, thereby aiding in their recovery process.

Mental health is the focus of President's Challenge 2019, an annual community outreach and fund-raising campaign, and Madam Halimah said on Thursday the main focus should be on encouraging greater job opportunities for persons suffering from mental health issues.

She praised the Job Club, which was set up in 2008, noting that some of those it has helped have stayed with the same employer for more than 10 years, proving that the scheme was sustainable.

Besides employers, though, co-workers also played a critical role in helping those with mental health problems.

The President pointed to a 2017 National Council of Social Service survey which found that 50 per cent of workers were not comfortable working with such people.

Madam Halimah said there was a lot of work to be done in this area.

"I think there's a lot of misunderstanding, misinformation, ignorance about the conditions of people with mental health; issues in their ability to work peacefully."

Madam Halimah also said it was "absolutely critical" to have more support at the community level for those with mental problems.

Mr Jeffery Tan, group general counsel for Jardine Cycle & Carriage and chief executive officer of Mindset Care Limited, echoed the President's view. Mindset is a charity organisation that sources for job opportunities for recovering mental health patients.

"All of us, if we're honest with ourselves, have struggled with mental health at some point in our lives even if we're not diagnosed with anything. So we hope the whole ecosystem of the workforce can be more compassionate towards those who were," said Mr Tan.

Mr Tan also said that a lot of professionals who had struggled with mental health issues had returned successfully to their previous roles, proving that they are qualified for "quality jobs".

"Sometimes we think entry-level jobs are the only way for them to join the workforce again," he said.

Job Club director, Ms Joycelyn Neo, said it sent job placement officers and vocational specialists to workplaces to educate employers and follow up with clients. Awareness workshops are also conducted yearly for the human resources directors of their partner employers.

IMH outpatient Abel Goh, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1998 when he was 16, is among those helped by the Job Club. The 37-year-old has been working in the F&B industry for the last four years.

Mr Goh said that the club played a big role in helping find a suitable job for him, and regularly checks to see if he is coping well. He is also grateful towards his employer who has tailored his job scope and working hours to meet his needs.

"Crowds make me feel very anxious. I talked to my case manager (from Job Club) who helped me explain to my employer and he was very understanding. So I can't do cashier jobs but I can still help clean the tables and take out the rubbish, and now I'm training in other areas too."

"It's not that I cannot do a job, it's just that I'm still learning," Mr Goh said.

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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