23 June 2024

Don’t brush away mental health concerns of those in healthcare


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By: Ts Elman Mustafa El Bakri

Much attention has been devoted to understanding the characteristics and expectations of Generation Z in today’s workforce. This cohort, born roughly between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, brings with it a unique set of values, preferences, and digital fluency that have reshaped workplace dynamics. Yet, beyond the discussions of their impact on productivity and organizational culture, lies a crucial aspect that demands our attention: the mental well-being of Gen Z employees, particularly in industries such as healthcare where human interaction is paramount.

Undoubtedly, Gen Z individuals are not just the future; they are an integral part of the present workforce already. Whether we embrace or resist their distinctive traits, the reality remains—they are here to stay, shaping the contours of our workplaces in many, undoubtedly important, ways. As we embrace this reality, it becomes imperative to examine how we support their mental health, particularly within sectors like healthcare, where the demands can be uniquely challenging.

The question arises: Are we providing adequate support for the mental well-being of Gen Z professionals in the healthcare industry? If so, it’s a commendable step forward. However, if there are gaps in this support system, it’s incumbent upon us to explore avenues for improvement and intervention. After all, the mental health of our workforce is not just a matter of individual concern; it directly impacts organizational effectiveness, patient care, and the overall well-being of society.

A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in 2022 has illuminated a concerning trend: the prevalence of poor mental health among Malaysian adults has surged over the years. From a modest 10.7% in 1996 to a distressing 29.3% in 2019, this trajectory definitely demands our attention.

Compounding this issue is the glaring disparity in Malaysia’s mental health workforce. With a mere 410 registered psychiatrists in 2018, the psychiatrist-to-population ratio stands at 1.27 per 100,000 individuals, significantly below the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of one psychiatrist for every 10,000 people. This deficit underscores the urgent need for bolstering mental health resources within our healthcare infrastructure.

Further insights from a 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shed light on the mental well-being of healthcare professionals in Malaysia’s northwest region amidst the gradual relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions. The study showed alarming prevalence rates of depression (8.4%), anxiety (17.1%), and stress (6.4%) among these frontline workers, underscoring the pervasive toll of the pandemic on mental health.

While specific data regarding the mental health support for Gen Z healthcare professionals in Malaysia remains elusive, the broader challenges faced by the healthcare workforce paint a sobering picture. It’s evident that these challenges extend far beyond mere statistics, significantly impacting the performance and well-being of healthcare professionals, including those belonging to the Gen Z cohort.

Now, as we confront these challenges, let’s pivot towards solutions. How can we, as employers and leaders in the healthcare industry, step up and provide the essential mental health support that Gen Z employees urgently need?

One effective approach is to implement regular mental health check-ins and make counselling services readily accessible. By normalizing conversations about mental well-being and providing avenues for professional support, we can create a culture where Gen Z employees feel empowered to seek help when needed.

Additionally, offering workshops (can be online, offline, live, even on-the-go) and interactive training platforms on stress or soft skills or adaptive management and resilience-building techniques can equip and spark Gen Z employees with practical tools to navigate the challenges they face. From mindfulness practices to time management strategies, these initiatives can foster a sense of control and agency, helping Gen Z individuals acquire adaptability and eventually thrive in the workplace.

In conjunction with the Labour Day, it’s crucial to recognize that the mental health challenges faced by Gen Z employees are unique, real and imminently demand our collective attention. The solutions are within reach, but they require the commitment and support of everyone involved – be it employers, colleagues, families and even the broader community. By prioritizing mental health support and implementing proactive measures, we can create a supportive workplace environment where Gen Z employees feel valued, supported, and empowered to flourish.

The author is CEO and Founder of HESA Healthcare Recruitment Agency, and the Industrial Advisory Panel for the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at elman.asia@gmail.com