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Workplace mental support a must

The preschool mass shooting in Nong Bua Lam Phu last week has raised a number of controversial issues — from gun control, journalism ethics and professionalism, to drugs and violence.

The issue of mental health and anxiety and how it can lead to unexpected actions or even death should not be overlooked.

Thais were shocked when an ex-policeman walked into a nursery in the northeastern province of Nong Bua Lam Phu and killed 36 — 23 of whom were small children. At least 10 more were injured.

After the mass shooting, in which the gunman also killed his wife and her three-year-old son before taking his own life, the mother attributed the incident to her son’s personal stress, debt and use of narcotics. The mother of the killer also expressed condolences to all families who lost their loved ones.

The Nong Bua Lam Phu massacre is not the first incident where the authorities — police officers and soldiers — were the killers. In February 2020, a military officer committed a mass shooting at Terminal 21 in Nakhon Ratchasima province, killing 30 people and wounding 58 others.

In June last year, a former soldier also committed a mass shooting out of anger at a field hospital in Pathum Thani, leading to two deaths.

And a military officer carried out another shooting spree at the Army War College in Bangkok last month, resulting in two deaths and one injury.

Accumulated stress can be the result of many things — both personal and work-related. Coupled with the possession of weapons, uncontrolled stress and anger can lead to injuries and even the deaths of the innocent.

Stress is a silent killer. According to a 2019 report titled “Chronic Stress: Are We Reaching Health System Burn Out?”, a number of countries were forced to allocate a large sum of their national budget to stress-related treatments.

Based on data from the report, the United States spent around US$133 billion on stress-related medical treatment, followed by Australia ($22.9 billion), the United Kingdom ($14.7 billion) and South Korea ($13 billion).

Meanwhile, Thailand allocated around $717 million (approximately 27 billion baht) on stress-related medical bills for its population. This accounts for around 4.3% of the country’s entire healthcare budget.

Covid-19 turned the situation from bad to worse. According to information from the Department of Mental Health, people in Thailand have increasingly been at higher risk of becoming victims of mental health issues. Based on data collected by the Mental Health Check In system since April 2021, 45.5% of Thais suffer a high level of stress. Additionally, an estimated 51.5% were on the verge of developing depression, 30.6% were at risk of suicide, and 17.6% suffered burnout. Of all these numbers, 90% were working people.

With such alarming numbers, stress should immediately be addressed before it turns into something more evil, and because the majority of working people reportedly suffer from stress, it is paramount that workplaces realise the importance of stress management among staff and provide them with much-needed support.

On a professional level, organisations — be they public or private — should provide mental health counselling for their employees so that their personal and career-related stress and worries can be relieved through discussion with mental health experts. Mental health should no longer be treated as a taboo subject in the workplace, but rather be the top priority in modern companies and organisations.

Almost all companies today already have a nurse’s room or a medical unit. Adding a psychological expert or counsellor should not be a burden. Rather, organisations should see it as an investment as part of human resource management. Staff with good mental health make jobs easier.

Supervisors or employers should also see staff mental health as one of their priorities. Instead of just making money, supervisors should also care for staff well-being, notice signs of mental health disorders or if their employees are stressed out due to long work hours, workload, job insecurity or conflicts with co-workers or bosses.

People these days spend a lot of time at work. Some say one-third of our lives is dedicated to working, so reshaping working environments to promote and protect mental health among staff is paramount. This could eventually help save a lot of lives.


Arusa Pisuthipan is the editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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