Due to differing attitudes to mental health, employers must adapt their approach to the wellbeing support they offer depending upon the cultures and countries in which employees are based, according to Towergate Health & Protection.

The problem

Around the world there are cultural differences in the way people consider and approach mental health. Asked how local people would feel speaking about anxiety or depression with someone they know, 53.1% of people in Hong Kong said they would ‘not be at all comfortable’. This figure is 33% in China and 27.6% in the UK but as low as 5.8% in Morocco. An unwillingness to talk about mental health in different countries can correlate to a lack of willingness to seek support.

There are also issues relating to whether countries acknowledge or report mental health issues. Many countries fail to publish mental health statistics at all or have low rates of recognition among medical professionals and even among the individuals suffering themselves. The global recognition rate of mental disorders is around 50%, according to the World Health Organisation, but this is much lower in some areas, for instance, taking depression as an example, recognition rates in Shanghai are just 21%.

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The attitudes and cultural differences are reflected in the investment, or lack of investment, governments make in supporting mental health. For example, Government expenditure on mental health is US$46.49 per person in Europe, while in Southeast Asia and Africa it is US$0.1 per person.

Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection, says: “Attitudes to mental health differ so much around the world that support cannot be a broad-brush solution. The term ‘mental health’ is not even recognised or used in some countries and employers might find greater success in promoting ‘wellbeing’ instead when they’re looking to increase engagement and utilisation of support for mental health.”

What employers can do

Global employers, no matter how many or few staff they have overseas, need to implement a solution that is appropriate to each employee in each area of the world. Assistance should include support from people who have experience themselves of working abroad. Advice and information should be confidential and readily available throughout the placement, as employees can struggle at the different stages of deployment, and even when they return to the UK at the end of their assignment. Support must be frequently and widely promoted, using terms appropriate to the culture of the region, such as talking about wellbeing instead of mental health.

Sarah Dennis says: “The cultural differences on a global scale are so varied that it is vital employers take expert advice on wellbeing support. It’s important that this advice comes from a source with people on the ground in the relevant countries. Every employee abroad must be aware of the support in place so that they know how to access it, even if mental health is not traditionally a matter for discussion in the country in which they are based.”

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Sarah Dennis
Towergate Health & Protection combines a whole of market, independent insurance broking service for businesses and individuals throughout the world with specialist health and wellbeing advice and solutions. The company aims to help clients manage their health risks and improve the wellbeing of themselves, their families and employees, resulting in a healthy, motivated and productive workforce.