What’s Causing Mental Stress in Southeast Asia?

We all face daily stresses but what are Southeast Asians most stressed about (besides the pandemic)? Milieu Insight, in partnership with Calm Collective, a grassroots community for sharing mental wellbeing strategies and solutions for good mental health in Asia, conducted a survey to better understand consumer sentiments towards stress on their mental health and their views on seeking help.

A look at stress in SEA

Milieu Insight surveyed 1,000 respondents across 6 Southeast Asian countries (6,000 overall) – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Singapore (81%) and the Philippines (78%) top the list among the six Southeast Asian countries, with respondents agreeing that it is stressful living in their countries, followed by Malaysia (61%), Thailand (59%), Indonesia (51%) and lastly, Vietnam (42%).

Across the 6 countries, respondents from Singapore (20%) and The Philippines (15%) felt that they do not handle stress well. On the other hand, more than half of respondents from Indonesia and Vietnam felt that they were good at doing so.

More so than the other countries, respondents in Singapore (67%) are averse towards reaching out for help and turning down extra work even if they already have enough on their plates. There also seems to be a fear of offending others at work, with only 62% saying that they think their colleagues or bosses would be accepting if they were to turn down additional work assigned to them. Yet, not only those in Singapore, but across Southeast Asia, our study found that about 9 in 10 say that they would agree to help their colleagues with work even if they are already busy.

In the Philippines, 87% of respondents would reach out for help and 97% indicated that they would help their colleagues even if they are busy.

However, most respondents who are stressed did not seek help as they did not want to be a burden to anyone.

Financial situations, personal relations, responsibilities and work/ study commitments, were generally the top factors of stress, but for the Philippines, traumatic experiences were also a top factor. Interestingly, for Singapore, self-confidence was also a high stress factor.

Although more than two-thirds of respondents say that they proactively care about their mental health, they do not seem to lend the same amount of importance to stress. Aside from Vietnam and Malaysia, 53% in Singapore and close to half of respondents in Indonesia (49%), Thailand (49%) and The Philippines (46%) are willing to seek professional help only after stress gets too overwhelming. Burnout and even ‘death by overwork’ were major issues long before the coronavirus arrived. Despite that, stress still seems to be viewed primarily as a personal problem that should be handled alone and many regard it as a feeling that will just get better with time.

Milieu Insight’s Co-founder and CEO, Gerald Ang shares his own personal reflections on why the topic of mental health should be addressed so people understand the detrimental impacts it can have on a person. ‘’If left unchecked, stress can take a significant toll on our mental health. I can personally attest to that! It is important that we band together to find ways to help the broader community deal better with stress. I hope the insights from this study can provide a sense of comfort to those feeling the burden of stress on their mental health that they are not alone in dealing with these challenges. Employers also need to recognise that chronic stress and its related illness caused by a poor working environment can be as serious as a physically unsafe environment. This collaboration is the first of many that we will be doing under our ‘Milieu for Good’ program. We do hope to help more social organisations uncover insights that will make a positive impact to our community.’’

Images: Envato

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