Steps to ease workers’ curbs, boost well-being

This article is more than 12 months old

Manpower Ministry working to ensure they have access to counselling, plans to allow them more freedom to leave dormitories

Plans are in the works to better support migrant workers' mental health and allow them more freedom to leave their dormitories after a recent spate of suicides and attempted suicides raised concerns about their mental well-being.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) told The Straits Times yesterday that while it had not seen a spike in the number of suicides among migrant workers "compared to previous years", it was watching the situation closely and working with partners and groups to give them more mental health support.

Since May, there have been at least five workers detained under the Mental Health Act after attempting to hurt themselves and at least two reported cases of workers dying of unnatural causes at dorms.

MOM said its investigations showed that incidents tended to stem from issues workers faced back home with their marriages or families, or unforeseen mishaps in their home countries. Workers suffered distress because they were unable to return home easily. The ministry said it was working on getting workers back home.

MOM also said it was working to ensure workers have access to counselling and support, provide workers with information in a timely manner, and find ways to reduce the time they spend in their rooms.

Since yesterday, workers have been able to leave their dorms to run specified essential errands, such as medical appointments or banking services, with approval from their employers or dorm operators.

Stress, caused by quarantine and uncertainty over personal health, families and jobs, has been building among migrant workers, non-governmental organisations told ST.

Many of these groups have been calling attention to the psychological impact of movement restrictions on the vulnerable and low-paid group since the pandemic started.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad told ST on Tuesday that there will be a "relaxation from the current position" to explore ways for workers to safely leave the dorms, for example through staggered rest days.

"It is imperative for us to manage not just their personal health with regard to Covid-19 but also their mental health," added Mr Zaqy.


HealthServe, the main charity here with mental health services for migrant workers, said it has counselled over 700 foreign workers since it launched its virtual counselling clinic in late April.

Its head of communications and engagement, Ms Suwen Low, said: "There are more high-risk cases coming to us, which include instances of self-harm and suicide ideation."

Stepping up vigilance to keep an eye out for workers in distress are the forward assurance and support teams, which are teams of police and MOM officers and soldiers deployed to the dorms.

In view of recent events, they will assess if a worker may benefit from speaking to a mental health counsellor, said the ministry.

"We have also worked with IMH (Institute of Mental Health) to train and better equip front-line staff with the knowledge and skills to help workers who may require support," MOM added.

In the meantime, the ministry said it had made "considerable effort" to keep workers up to date on Covid-related efforts, through daily messages and also materials in their languages.

"These materials encourage workers to identify symptoms of distress, look out for one another, be a buddy to a friend, and know where to seek help," it said.


Migrant Workers’ Centre: 6536-2692

HealthServe: 3138-4443

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Institute of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788