Written Answer to PQ by Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng on impact of COVID-19 related Movement Restrictions on Mental Health of Migrant Workers
NOTICE PAPER NO. 785 OF 2021 FOR THE SITTING ON 1 NOV 2021
QUESTION NO. 1952 FOR REVISED WRITTEN ANSWER TO QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER NOT ANSWERED BY END OF QUESTION TIME
MP: Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) whether the Ministry has studied the impact of movement restriction on the mental health of migrant workers who have not been allowed into the community since March 2020; (b) if not, why not; and (c) if a study has been done, when will the results be released.
NOTICE PAPER NO. 801 OF 2021 FOR THE SITTING ON 1 NOV 2021
QUESTION NO. 2074 FOR REVISED WRITTEN ANSWER TO QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER NOT ANSWERED BY END OF QUESTION TIME
MP: Ms He Ting Ru
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) what proportion of frontline officers, dormitory operators, employers and Forward Assurance and Support Team officers have been trained in identifying migrant workers with mental health symptoms; (b) how have the capabilities and capacities of para-counselling and counselling services available to migrant workers been strengthened since the announcement of Project Dawn; and (c) what is the average wait time between identification of a migrant worker with poor mental health and referral to a trained professional.
1 Two Members have filed questions related to the mental well-being of our migrant workers.
2 We are committed to support the mental well-being of our migrant workers and are sparing no efforts to strengthen the mental health support ecosystem for migrant workers. Since last November, the Project DAWN taskforce has worked with our Non-Government Organisations (NGO) partners, healthcare partners, employers, and dormitory operators to develop such a support ecosystem approach to look out for migrant workers, listen to their concerns, identify those who need more support and link them with the appropriate care channels. We are doing this in three ways.
3 First, we are raising awareness of mental health issues and broadening outreach of training in basic mental health and psychological first aid (PFA). All new frontline officers who are part of the Forward Assurance and Support Teams (FAST) undergo basic PFA as part of their induction programme. To date more than 500 personnel have undergone such training. We also hold regular Community of Practice sessions between FAST and our consultants from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). These sessions address common scenarios officers may face in their daily work and are attended by about a third of our officers at each run. All dormitory operators and employers receive materials on basic PFA, which are also readily available on a dedicated page on MOM’s website. Webinars are arranged periodically to strengthen awareness of mental health issues for employers and dormitory operators.
4 Second, we are working with our NGO partners to make counselling and para-counselling more accessible. Besides existing counselling hotlines with the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) and HealthServe, MOM also co-funded and supported the expansion of HealthServe’s 24-hour counselling service which has been operational since August 2021. To deliver culturally attuned care, HealthServe had ensured that more native-speaking para-counsellors were hired to deliver this service. The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) had also lent their expertise to build up HealthServe’s capabilities in operating this round-the-clock service. This 24-hour service has been publicised widely to employers, dormitory operators and migrant workers, including through MOM’s channels. Beyond helplines, the Project DAWN taskforce is also strengthening community peer support through the training of Friends of ACE (FACE) volunteers in basic PFA and para-counselling skills. To date, about 150 peer support leaders have been trained and we are working towards training up to 600 peer support leaders by end 2022. We will continue to assess the effectiveness of the training and consider expanding this to more volunteers beyond 2022.
5 Third, mental healthcare has been made even more accessible. Any migrant worker identified to benefit from mental healthcare will be linked up with the appropriate service, including counselling hotlines. For those who prefer to undergo physical consultations, our healthcare teams at MOM’s regional medical centres are also trained to identify, care for, and refer those who require further medical care. An escalation pathway with IMH has also been developed to ensure timely care for more severe cases, when necessary.
6 An earlier study conducted by Yale-NUS on migrant workers’ mental health from June to October 20201 showed no notable difference in stress, anxiety, and depression levels among locals and migrant workers, although there were indications of higher levels of stress amongst migrant workers with movement restrictions. Nonetheless, any easing of movement restrictions will need to be done in a careful and calibrated manner, so as not to trade one stress for another – in particular the stress of overwhelming our healthcare system. Since August last year, we have allowed dormitory residents to visit Recreation Centres (RCs). We recently increased the frequency of RC visits to thrice a week, up from once a week. We also removed pre-visit testing requirements for vaccinated migrant workers, which benefits more than 98% of the dormitory population. Concurrently, we are working with RC operators and community partners, to introduce programmes and new offerings to make RC visits more engaging.
7 Last month, we piloted community visits for vaccinated workers to Little India. To ensure these community visits have broader appeal to more migrant workers, we recently expanded the visits from 500 to 3,000 vaccinated migrant workers per week and included Geylang Serai/Joo Chiat. We also extended the visit duration to eight hours.
8 We remain committed towards caring for our migrant workers’ mental well-being through a good support system, as well as to continue to ease the measures safely. MOM will continue to monitor the mental health of migrant workers by working closely with our partners.