Building a sustainable future through mental health

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 objectives, contributing to a better world for people and the planet by 2030.

Mental health falls under the SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being. Since the SDGs' launch in 2015 and the rise of mental health awareness, it has become even more apparent why mental health is a crucial part of the SDGs. As the World Health Organization puts it,

There can be no health or sustainable development without mental health.

It is not only representative of Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being but is also ingrained in worker safety, discrimination, inclusivity, housing, and climate change, linking it to Goals 8, 10, 11, and 13. For instance, farming and indigenous communities' mental health is greatly impacted by climate and ecosystem changes.

Additionally, increasingly extreme weather conditions, major weather events, and housing crises put those with serious mental illnesses at risk without support or resources. This further links to the lack of affordable and supportive housing for the mentally ill, as well as the lack of proper assistance in workplaces, such as employee assistance programs (EAP) and workplace mental health support. Mental health is also inextricably tied to reducing inequalities. Both mental health inclusion and the mental health of those discriminated against are important factors in a sustainable world. After all, how can we hope to cultivate sustainable workplaces, economies, cities, and communities without taking care of the people who make up these institutions? Mental health is therefore an influential building block in the UN's 2030 vision of a sustainable future.

Nonetheless, there is a significant stigma surrounding mental health in Asia. In Singapore, 90% of employees wouldn't seek assistance for a mental health condition due to this stigma. However, this doesn't imply that mental health issues are not widespread in Asia. In fact, CMHAHK states that 1 in 4 employees in Hong Kong have encountered mental health challenges. Among those employees, 83% continued to work while experiencing poor mental health. This reduced performance results in employers facing a substantial cost of $225.8 billion annually.

Moreover, 68% of Millennials and 81% of Generation Z employees have resigned from a job for mental health reasons, leading to a talent shortage that affects companies through lost revenue and hindered progress. On a broader perspective, a study published in the Lancet discovered that, excluding suicides, mental health issues are projected to decrease economic growth by $9 trillion between 2016 and 2030 in both China and India.

But the problem doesn’t end there.

Our next generation and our future continue to be affected by the mental health landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, exacerbated by Covid-19. 93% of APAC youth say the pandemic changed their lifestyle forever, with some of the top changes being the way we work and the way we take care of our health, including self-care strategies and resources for work-life balance.

One of the positive impacts of the pandemic is that we are starting to talk more about mental health in Asia. 65% of APAC employees felt Covid-19 made it easier to discuss mental health issues with colleagues, and 57% with managers. So, while Greater China was hit especially hard during this pandemic and mental health took a turn for the worst, we are beginning to reduce the stigmatization of mental health that has permeated Asia for decades. We are finally paying attention, talking about it.

Yet, mental health in APAC is perpetually underserved. There is less than one psychiatrist per 100,000 population in upper-middle-income Asia-Pacific countries. Despite the commendable advancements in mental health awareness, we still have a large population suffering from poor mental health, with few resources to easily navigate the maze of mental health. To build a sustainable future, we need to address mental health in a sustainable manner. This includes every person’s specific needs, from the workplace to the next generation.

Even so, organizations consistently fail to do this by using a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. It is evident through Covid-19 that specific groups are suffering more and that care needs to be tailored. Though principally, providing mental health support is clouded with guesswork and barriers, we can shine light through the dark by reconstructing it to be more inclusive and accessible, utilizing innovative digital health solutions and workplace counseling services. Our sustainable future comes down to every unique individual and the care that they need.

Book a demo to learn about how businesses can support the UN Sustainable Development Goals by bolstering employees' mental health.

By Emily Wu

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