Doctors raise flag on Singaporeans’ stress level



A report in the Straits Times (14 April 2014) says “more young professionals suffering from burn-out.” It says a "check with three psychiatrists revealed that up to 90 per cent of their patients are grappling with mental health issues caused by stress from work.”

The report says:

“Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, said burnout from work should not be taken lightly. ‘It can deteriorate to full blown depressive or anxiety disorders, with severe symptoms such as feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts’.”

However, the problem has been exacerbated in recent years because of the manpower crunch. Fewer staff means workers end up with more responsibilities, said Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm People Worldwide.

But the situation should not be surprising, because it has been reported before.

Last year, for example, a survey by found that “60% of Singapore workers feel mental fatigue at work.”

In November of that same year, a survey by Regus, a global workplace provider, found the number of workers who felt stressed may have increased.

“Economic volatility has increased pressure on Singaporean workers with 67 per cent reporting that they are seeing more stress-related illness since the downturn,” the news reported the Regus survey.

It also found:

“... that 34 per cent of Singaporean workers are losing sleep worrying about work, and 40 per cent of respondents reported that their family and friends have noticed they are stressed by work.”

John Henderson, regional director and CFO at Regus APAC, said:

"Difficult economic times in the west and an unprecedented rate of growth in emerging economies have put a strain on businesses and their employees.”

"Workers are expected to do more with less, and this has taken its toll to the point many are close to burn-out".

The situation looks to be getting more serious and doctors are raising the flag now.

Just last month (March), doctors were reporting that “about one in 15 Singaporeans suffers from depression at some point in his or her life.”

But because many cases go unreported for various reasons, the real number could be much higher – and doctors say that as many as one in 5 could suffer from stress-related disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Dr Lim says:

"One of the main things we see here would be people with depression, with anxiety disorders. Of course, a lot of this is contributed by the stress of work, by the stress of everyday living in a very crowded place like Singapore."

The Center for Psychology says that many of its clients "have resorted to alcohol abuse, obsessive compulsive behaviours, over-working, reckless sexual behaviours and infidelity, in attempts to 'escape' from their anxiety in the 'play hard, work hard' culture of Singapore.”

How does one deal with stress then? Perhaps the underlying reason is because people do not take time to rest.

Dr Lim explains, “The thing about our Asian culture is that we define ourselves with our work and we feel very guilty when we take rests, and even during holidays we tend to think about our work.”

Indeed, the survey by Regus found that “45 per cent of Singapore's working professionals have admitted that they would work one to three hours a day even if they are on holidays.”

Singaporeans spend more time – 46 hours weekly - in the work place than the global average of 38 hours. In 2012, a Jobstreet survey found that 88% revealed they work beyond official hours.

It is therefore not surprising that more Singaporeans have been calling for better work-life balance – that they do not “live to work” but “work to live”.

But such an idea, amidst the government’s tightening of the foreign workforce and stiff global and regional competition, attracted a warning from no less than the prime minister himself.


In September last year, PM Lee Hsien Loong warned of the competition from others.

"If you look at other countries: Vietnam, China, even in India, they're not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch. So I think I'd better guard my lunch."

Still, the latest studies and comments from healthcare professionals such as doctors and psychiatrists should give us pause.

Beneath these surveys and statistics are real people, Singaporeans who are increasingly finding life less meaningful perhaps.

As Dr Lim said, "You can imagine the numbers, the thousands of people out there who are stressed and not getting any help, definitely I believe that lots of people are not getting help."