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08/11/2022
Opinion, Trends, Perspectives, Community Sentiment

Global Insights on Mental Health: Spotlight on Asia

Mental health’s time in the sun has finally arrived. Hitherto a topic barely ever discussed, let alone acted upon, there’s finally talk – and action – around it. However, any action towards addressing mental health concerns is incomplete in the absence of the right data to identify and understand where the gaps truly lie.

With this in mind, FWD Insurance recently partnered with Blackbox Research to undertake a comprehensive study spanning 4 continents and 16 markets, namely Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam in Asia; France, Germany, and the UK in Europe; and America and Australia completing the list.

Here’s a round-up of the key takeaways from the study.

Asians believe mental health issues will become increasingly prevalent in the future

In pre-pandemic 2019, an estimated 970 million people globally were living with mental health concerns, with anxiety and depressive disorders being the most prevalent. That’s 1 in every 8 people! After the pandemic hit, as per World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, the number of people with anxiety and depressive disorders became even higher—a 26% and 28% increase respectively.

In the FWD-Blackbox survey, nearly half of those polled either had mental health concerns themselves or knew a close one (in their immediate circle) who did.

While specific data for Asia is still limited, it is estimated that in Southeast Asia alone, 1 in 7 people live with a mental health condition.

Interestingly, while just over half (51%) in the West believe that mental health will become even more critical in 2023, the number of Asians who believe so is significantly higher at 65%.

Expectedly, there are generational differences at play here, especially in Asia. Gen Y (69%) in Asia believe mental health will become more critical in the year ahead, followed by Gen X (64%) and Boomers (58%).

Mental health concerns vary among regions

With global inflation predicted to rise to 7.5% by the end of 2022—due to the cost-of-living crisis, rising fuel/energy costs, and supply chain disruptions owing to the Russia-Ukraine War—the stress levels are ever-increasing for a majority of people.  

When asked to choose from a host of options on what their top stressors are, most respondents from the West selected inflation and savings as their top two stressors while Asians went with increasing family responsibilities and work stress.

While the above data is specifically in the context of additional family responsibilities, on a somewhat related note, Singaporeans are increasingly also aware of the need to spend more time with their loved ones, especially in the continuing aftermath of the pandemic.

Barriers to seeking help for mental health challenges

While the increasing discussions about mental health is certainly a welcome change, with well half of respondents (58%) in a mid-year Blackbox poll feeling the same, the harsh reality is that many internal and external barriers to seeking help still exist, with cost of treatment being the biggest factor globally (41%), as well as in Asia (40%) and in the West (42%).

Moreover, Asians tend to prefer the self-help route while Westerners appear more comfortable with discussing mental health concerns openly with either their loved ones or qualified mental health practitioners. This is line with the general perceptions of conservative societies where an excessive focus on oneself is looked down upon, although things are certainly changing now.

What’s in a name? Apparently, a lot

Renaming mental health has been a contentious issue, with people differing in their perspectives. While some believe that a name change would help lessen the stigma, others believe that it could end up perpetuating it through such euphemisms. India, for example, in its recent The National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Act (NCAHP) 2021, changed the term ‘mental health’ to ‘behavioural health’, terming the latter as the more “preferred” term but reactions to this have been mixed.  

In the FWD-Blackbox study, 32% globally are in favour of a name change. However, with the debate unlikely to die down anytime soon, it would be interesting to see whether such a change occurs at a global level, for example as it did for ‘disabled’ versus ‘differently abled’.

Perceptions towards mental health insurance

In heartening news, 76% in Asia versus 71% globally are keen on exploring insurance options for mental health concerns. This is in line with the findings that cost of treatment is a major barrier when it comes to seeking help, and insurance can help cushion this impact. However, awareness is critical since while many are willing, they may not necessarily understand how to go about it, the terms and conditions of the said policies, and the coverage criteria. Players such as FWD Insurance are doing their bit to create suitable insurance products and awareness about their offerings through targeted campaigns.

Whether it is in one’s interpersonal relationships or at the workplace, mental health concerns can no longer be ignored. This presents a host of opportunities for players in the health and wellness space, from tech start-ups to insurance providers. Reach out to us on connect@blackbox.com.sg for an obligation-free consultation on how you can develop the right strategies for your business.   

Author: Blackbox Research Team

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