A recent article in the ST posed this question, “Are Singaporeans getting more anxious?” However, I think a more relevant question should perhaps be, “Why are Singaporeans getting more anxious?” since the article continued on to report that “From April last year to last month, the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) saw an 80% increase in people who required counselling for anxiety, compared with the same period the previous year.”
To me, the answer to that terse question is quite obvious – it is because of the strain from Society. Society can empower individuals to live their lives to the fullest, or limit their potential because of inequality, injustice and bias. If anxiety and mental health issues are increasing rapidly, it is evident that we as a society are heading in the wrong direction. We cannot lay the blame solely on personal or individual failings. However, our discussions and policies meted out to date have focused on the individual rather than the underlying socio-economic causes that have given rise to mental health issues.
One main cause is the financial pressures faced by many Singaporeans. Job security, in particular, is a major concern. I have highlighted this in my maiden speech in August 2020:
“… I regard jobs as the foundation of human dignity. If a breadwinner is unemployed (or underemployed) over a prolonged period of time, a multitude of undesirable social outcomes will follow. Dr Ang Yong Guan, the former President of the Singapore Psychiatric Association, has said that ‘economic problems contribute to much of the mental menace we see in our society today.’”
It is not surprising that this mental health menace is getting worse by the day as financial pressures have become more severe in the last two decades. The foreign manpower issue has been brewing since the early 2000s, causing job displacement and discrimination of Singaporeans. The sense of unfairness has deepened further recently due to home prices spiraling upwards even as many Singaporeans struggle economically under the pandemic. Alas, Covid-19 is not a cause but a magnifier of the problem.
Inflation has returned with a vengeance after more than three decades of price stability. Singaporeans now eye anxiously at the rising electricity rates, service and conservancy charges, food and hawker prices, public transport fare, petrol price and so on. Even motorcycle COEs are not spared. The levy is skyrocketing despite the use of motorcycles being essential for many Singaporeans to eke out a living!
Against this challenging backdrop, our Government has chosen to raise GST and property tax for the lower-value properties adding to the challenges in life that people may already face. It is not difficult to understand why many Singaporeans are worried and stressed. This ultimately affects their mental health and well-being.
We support more resources and expertise to be devoted to mental health but the Government must address the root cause – financial pressures, at the same time. To defuse the Mental Health Time Bomb, we need a new socio-economic model.
To all struggling Singaporeans, stay strong!
Singaporeans deserve better.