12 January 2021

Latest global mental health statistics provide a warning to employers

Figures1 released by YouGov in December 2020 show that the likelihood of suffering from a mental health condition, including anxiety and depression, differs according to the country of residence. This is something that must be considered by businesses with overseas employees.

Australians are the most likely to say they suffer from a mental health condition, with 35% stating this. People living in the US and Indonesia are the next most likely to say they suffer from a mental health condition, 34% and 33% respectively. People in Hong Kong, Denmark and Singapore are the least likely to report they have mental health problems, each surveyed at 17%.

Sarah Dennis, Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection comments: “Mental health issues have been pushed up the corporate agenda due to the challenges faced by employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is particularly the case with those working overseas. We urge employers to consider the extra strain on those based abroad and to focus on prevention of mental health issues by ensuring they have a robust wellbeing programme in place. The next step is to offer support, and to communicate widely that it is available. Extending benefits to include mental as well as physical health can be a huge benefit for employee and employer alike.”

There may be a reflection of cultural attitudes in the figures, where some employees are more willing to discuss mental health issues than others. In practice, those struggling with their mental wellbeing may be greater than reported, which makes it even more important for employers to make support available.

Parity of esteem

Indeed, a core concept put forward by mental health campaigners is ‘parity of esteem’. This is where mental health issues are taken as seriously as physical health issues. According to the You Gov survey1, people in the UK (77%), Australia (71%), and Denmark (70%) are most likely to agree this is the case, while in the UAE, less than half of those surveyed (48%) assign parity of esteem to mental and physical issues.

Mental health challenges for overseas employees

Overseas employees face specific mental health challenges:

  • Not being able to see family and friends is even more challenging abroad, particularly with restrictions on travelling home
  • Different time zones make it difficult to keep in touch
  • Overseas employees may find it difficult to fit in with a new/different culture
  • With travel abroad and even within individual countries hugely restricted, employees who are used to regularly travelling to different countries for work may feel very confined
  • Lifestyle changes – a big draw of working overseas is the lifestyle. This has been seriously curtailed for many under ongoing Covid-19 restrictions

Differing restrictions across the globe

To make things even more challenging for global employers and their employees, the rules regarding lockdowns, restrictions, and curfews differ across the world.

The Oxford Covid-19 government response tracker2 looks systematically at the measures that governments are taking to compare worldwide responses to the pandemic. Figures from 4 January 2021 show Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Morocco, and Germany to have among the highest restrictions. On the same date, Tanzania and Afghanistan had among the lowest levels of restrictions. If employers have staff in several countries, then they need to stay on top of the different and constantly changing regulations.

Providing support

There are key ways in which employers can provide support for overseas workers in terms of their mental wellbeing. Making access to help available is always one of the most important steps in aiding mental health. Particularly for those working abroad, it is important to be able to talk to someone who understands the situation and has also worked overseas. With time differences, and mental health issues occurring at all times of the day and night, it is vital that a source of support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sarah Dennis says: “It is all about communication. Companies must communicate the benefits and support they are offering. It’s vital that employees know how to access any help, and that they’re encouraged to do so.”


1. https://yougov.co.uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2020/12/10/britons-most-likely-say-covid-has-taken-toll-their 
2. https://covidtracker.bsg.ox.ac.uk/stringency-map