Blog | 4 Oct 2018

World Mental Health Day: Continuing the Conversation in an Asian Context 

This opinion piece forms part of our IMPACTxAsia blog series

World Mental Health Day: Continuing the Conversation in an Asian Context 

Emerging statistics around mental health are alarming – both globally and in Asia. In 2017 the World Health Organization identified depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, estimating that it effects more than 300 million people. It is widely recognised that poor mental health has an enormous cost – on our societies, our healthcare structures and on our people. What is not so widely understood, is that if unaddressed, poor mental health has an enormous cost on our businesses too. Sadly, here in Asia, the topic of mental health remains shrouded in stigma and taboo, with few companies today addressing this critical aspect of employee wellbeing in their organisations.

Committed to opening up the conversation around mental health, in July this year, Community Business launched pioneering research entitled ‘Embracing Mental Health in the Workplace in Asia’. The research outlines the business case for addressing mental health in the workplace, seeks to increase understanding on the issues in Asia, highlights the role the corporate sector can play to impact positive change, and shares best practices from the region The research notes that in markets such as the UK, companies have initially addressed mental health as part of their disability agenda – treating mental health as a long-term health condition and making workplace accommodations as required. However, in recent years, with a greater focus on prevention and promotion of positive mental health, there has been a shift to address as part of a company’s occupational health or wellbeing strategy. As companies operating in Asia begin to turn their attention towards mental health in the workplace, many are grappling with similar issues and figuring out where responsibility for mental health should lie.  With less developed disability strategies, and the enormous stigma and taboo surrounding this broader topic, many are opting to incorporate mental health into their employee wellbeing strategies.

Indeed, resistance to addressing the sensitive subject of mental health is deeply engrained in Asia for a number of reasons: 

  • The subject of mental health is deeply shrouded in taboo and poorly understood in Asia: Traditional Confucian beliefs and superstition play a powerful role. 

  • Language is a barrier: Stigma and negative associations with the words mental health are so strong that companies shared the need to find alternative ways to broach this subject. 

  • Employees are unlikely to speak up: Given not just the sensitivities about the subject itself, but also the cultural resistance to openly voicing concerns or confronting challenging issues, local Asian employees are unlikely to raise the topic of mental health with their employers. 

  • Difficulty crafting a response: The lack of mental health professionals is a wider issue across the region, and this impacts on the readiness of companies to deal with issues arising among employees.  

  • Tackling the root causes: The existing workplace culture across Asia may be contributing to employee mental health issues. Companies need to address key issues within their own practices if they are to ensure that mental health issues are not exacerbated by long hours or undue pressure. 


Yet the business case for taking a proactive approach to mental health is compelling:

Benefits of Good Mental Health 

Costs of Poor Mental Health  

Employee Engagement: Employee wellbeing and employee engagement are interdependent – happy and healthy employees are more likely to be positive about their work whilst strong work engagement leads to higher levels of psychological wellbeing. 

Presenteeism: Employees with mental health issues may still come to work but function at less than full capacity because of ill health. Presenteeism can be more expensive than absenteeism.  

Productivity & Performance: Positive mental health drives productivity and performance – at an individual and organisational level. 

Attrition: There is a significant cost associated with replacing staff who leave their job due to a mental health problem. 

Employer of Choice: Companies that take proactive steps to provide support for their employees enjoy a positive reputation.  

Absenteeism: Mental health problems are the leading cause of absenteeism. 

Return on Investment (ROI): Preventative measures and timely treatment lead to savings in terms of reducing medical costs as well as indirect costs relating to productivity and performance. 

Risk & Reputation: Negative outcomes due to mental health problems can put employees at risk and damage corporate reputations 


As an advocate of responsible and inclusive business practices, Community Business is committed to supporting companies as they embrace mental health in the workplace. Mental health is now a key part of our focus on Ensuring Employee Wellbeing and we are encouraging companies to show their commitment to furthering employee wellbeing by signing up to Asia Employee Wellbeing Week next week (8 – 12 October). This region-wide initiative is designed to provide companies with a platform to raise awareness, educate and motivate action around employee wellbeing, in fact, the week deliberately coincides with World Mental Health Day on Wednesday 10 October. Adopting a holistic approach, Asia Employee Wellbeing Week focuses on four key aspects of employee wellbeing:

  • Work-Life Harmony: encouraging employees to manage or arrange the different parts of their life in a way that is in tune with their individual goals. A deliberately Asian perspective on achieving balance, the concept of work-life harmony recognises that different elements may fluctuate or take precedence at different times and that the two aspects of work and life may be interwoven. 

  • Physical Wellbeing: encouraging employees to make positive lifestyle choices that promote physical health. Activities such as regular exercise, healthy nutrition and quality sleep are critical to long-term health, energy levels and performance.  

  • Emotional Wellbeing: encouraging employees to be mindful of their emotional and mental state. Only by nurturing positive mental health and building resilience are employees able to deal with the daily stresses of life and function at their best.  

  • Financial Wellbeing: encouraging employees to learn about and take charge of their personal finances, a common source of anxiety and stress. A proactive and forward-looking approach to financial management can create peace of mind and security, boosting overall wellbeing and performance.

Our Executive Director Kate Vernon recently answered five key questions to explain the motivation behind Asia Employee Wellbeing Week and encourages companies across Asia to register as Participating Employers. Register now!


About the Author: Emily Moss, Manager, Marketing & Communications, Community Business