Recent cases of maids attacking or abusing their employers has highlighted the need for better mental health in Singapore among the migrant workers. Authorities are pondering several strategies that could help foreign workers adjust more easily to their new lives in Singapore. Various human rights groups are also pushing for greater awareness of the mental health challenge that domestic helpers face.

Separation from Family

For many foreign workers in the domestic field, being away from loved ones is the most difficult part of the job. The workers are in Singapore to earn money to support their families, but those families often live many miles away, across international borders.In the case of domestic helper Murni

In the case of domestic helper Murni Panengsih, she suffered due to long-term separation from her young son and other family members. A forensic psychiatrist in Singapore, Dr John Bosco Lee, noted in his report that her employer denied her pleas for some time off to return home for a visit. As a result, Murni sank into bitterness and depression. Eventually, she could not control the emotions surging inside her, and she lashed out at the elderly woman in her care, venting her mental anguish on the helpless senior citizen.

Unyielding Contracts

When a maid is locked into a contract with an employer in Singapore, she may feel trapped, especially if the relationship with her employer becomes toxic or the workload becomes too heavy. If a domestic worker cannot switch employers as needed, he or she can enter a negative downward spiral of emotions leading to depression or to outbursts of frustration and anger.

Abusive Employers

Employers need to view their maids and other migrant workers as valued employees, not as paid servants. Without that mutual respect and benefit, a deep rift can develop between the two sides. For example, one 69-year-old woman named Madam Nancy Gan struck her maid on the head with a plastic tray, criticised the maid for not using a silver tray, and threw a glass of water in the other woman’s face.

The Indonesian maid, Dewi Sukowati, couldn’t handle the extent of her employer’s abuse and she snapped. She seized Madam Gan and flung her against a wall, knocking her out. The maid hauled the body to the swimming pool and pulled the unconscious woman into the water, face down. Madam Gan drowned in an apparent suicide which was later discovered to be an impulsive killing. Dewi was young, and had endured heavy abuse from Madam Gan, which led her to the point of murder.

Existing Problems

In some cases, a job as a maid attracts those who may not be right for other careers due to existing mental health issues. Unfortunately, the long hours and hard labour can make mental illness worse, especially if an individual is not receiving treatment or medication for their condition.

Support and Treatment

Do you know a migrant worker who is struggling under the pressure of daily domestic duties while adjusting to a new culture, far from a familiar social support system? Whether the person is a friend, an employee of your family, or some other acquaintance, take some time to smile and be kind to that person. Help him or her adjust to life in a new country. Treat migrant workers with fairness, respect, and friendship, and they will adapt more quickly and be more likely to complete their contracts successfully.

Remember, you can always refer a troubled individual to a psychiatrist or psychologist in Singapore. At Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic, we’re happy to help anyone who is suffering from poor mental health. With support and proper health care, Singapore’s migrant workers can be a thriving, stable part of the population.