BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government is developing its first official policy on work-life balance as part of the national Mental Health Action Plan for 2022-2025.

The policy would include two consecutive days off on the weekend; standardised working hours; daycare/creche facilities at workplaces; designated drop-off points for school buses; flexible working hours and the option to work from home.

The Civil Service Department will take the lead on developing the policy, with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Religious Affairs, and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports as supporting stakeholders.

Under the action plan, which was launched on Tuesday (Nov. 8), mental healthcare services will be integrated into the BruHealth app to improve accessibility, and a mental health surveillance system will be established to collect data on mental health indicators among the population.

Mental health awareness will also be integrated into the school curriculum, and a baseline on mental health literacy will be developed to reduce stigma and discrimination around mental health issues.

At the launch event for the action plan, Health Minister Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said the pandemic shone a light on mental health struggles and the attendant gaps in public healthcare.

In 2021, a total of 1,515 people were diagnosed with anxiety and depression, according to MoH.

“The statistics obtained so far show that depression, anxiety and stress are mental health issues prevalent among our population, and which have only gotten worse since the pandemic,” he said.

“More scientific evidence related to the burden of mental health needs to be established… as a basis for the production of mental health policies and programmes, and to monitor mental health trends among the population of Brunei.”

It is estimated that approximately 7,000 individuals — including children and teenagers — are undergoing mental health treatment in local psychiatry departments and community health centres.

“This also raises concerns when there are a number of people who are determined to take their own life,” the minister added.

He shared that in 2020 there were 14 deaths by suicide — six locals and eight foreign nationals — and only three of these individuals sought psychiatric or psychological treatment.

As part of efforts to improve mental health literacy among the community, the health ministry signed agreements with five local NGOs — the Brunei Darussalam Red Crescent Society, Brunei Youth Council, Big BWN Project, Cope For Hope, and The Blue Raincoat Collective — to increase public awareness on the importance of mental health and well-being.