The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on the abhorrent living conditions of migrant workers in Singapore, but now concerns are being raised about the state of workers’ mental health.
In recent weeks, there has been an increasing number of reports of suicides and attempted suicides among migrant workers, the most recent of which involved an incident on 2 Aug where a worker allegedly slit his own throat.
Other incidents include:
- a 37-year-old Indian worker who was found dead at 512 Old Choa Chu Kang on 24 July
- a worker was seen standing at the edge of the roof of Sungei Tengah Lodge
- a Chinese National was found standing at an elevated area
- a 27-year-old migrant worker from Bangladesh was found motionless in at a factory converted dormitory in May
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it’s aware of the recent spate of suicides and attempted suicides involving migrant workers living at the dormitories, according to CNA.
It also says that it has not observed a spike in the number of migrant worker suicides compared to previous years, but is monitoring the situation.
They are also working closely with their partners and NGOs to enhance mental health support programmes for the workers.
Reasons For Deteriorating Mental Health
According to some migrant worker advocacy groups, the extended confinement, as well as uncertainties over their health and jobs, has affected the mental health of many migrant workers.
This includes anxiety over contracting the coronavirus and whether they will be able to return home and see their families, something many of them want to do now.
MOM said it’s been facilitating workers’ return home but various factors might cause a delay such as ensuring that they’ve recovered and have undergone a swab test, which is required by some countries.
Some workers also worry about not having their work permits renewed, or not having a job to return to if they were to leave.
Workers staying in hotels and cruise ships have also felt disorientated due to the limited movement and window-less rooms, said Cai Yinzhou, co-founder of the COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition.
Breaking Point Came After Circuit Breaker
According to Justin Paul, non-profit organisation HealthServe’s mental health programme manager, the breaking point for many workers came after the circuit breaker.
This might have you scratching your head, as most of us celebrated the end of the dreaded CB as though we’d just been released from prison.
Paul said many workers thought they’d be able to return to work after two months but were not able to.
“When Jun 2 came and went, a lot of the workers who were holding back and had accumulated stress from April started to break in different ways,” he said.
Paul added that his organisation has seen an increase in the number of workers requesting mental health services.
71 workers reached out to them in April, through their virtual advisory sessions, counselling services, and online group therapy sessions. 244 workers in June and 207 in July subsequently reached out.
Promoting Mental Health
MOM said that they are working to promote the mental health and well-being of workers, as well as educating them on the telltale signs of distress.
“We have made considerable effort to keep workers up to date on COVID-related efforts, through daily messages and also materials in their languages to promote the mental health and well-being of workers. 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”, they said.
They have also allotted time for workers to leave their rooms and access common areas and will work with NGOs to organise activities such as exercise sessions.
The ministry has urged migrant workers to reach out if they require assistance. Here are some useful helplines:
- Migrant Workers’ 24-hour helpline: 6536 2692
- MOM feedback form: www.mom.gov.sg/efeedback
- HOME Helpline for Migrant Workers: 6341 5535
- TWC2 Helpline for Migrant Workers: 6297 7564