With the recent case of the maid charged with murder, we can't help but question the mental health of foreign domestic workers coming into Singapore.
According to The Straits Times, the 23-year-old maid charged with murder hails from Myanmar. Authorities arrested Zin Mar Nwe after they discovered Ms Mehrotra lying motionless in her 12th-storey unit in Block 791, Choa Chu Kang North 6. Paramedics pronounced her dead at around 3.30pm. She was believed to be Zin Mar Nwe's employer.
Zin Mar Nwe has been remanded for psychiatric evaluation for a week. If found guilty of committing murder, she may face the death penalty.
Maid Charged with Murder: Mental Health of Domestic Workers Questioned
While we await results of the official hearing, we can only wonder what made the maid do what she did.
According to research done in 2017, there are over 230,000 migrant domestic workers in Singapore. Some of the increasing maid problems in the country could be due to high levels of stress and social isolation. This, in turn, can negatively impact the health and quality of life of these domestic workers.
In 2014, the Indonesian Embassy called for psychological testing of maids before they arrive in Singapore. This call to action was due to many high-profile cases of maid charged with murder involving Indonesian maids in Singapore and in other countries.
Still, it would be best if ALL foreign domestic workers are screened regarding their mental state before being allowed entry.
However, currently, only health screening for infectious diseases are required by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before work permits can be issued. All maids are required to undergo a basic physical health screening. This includes blood and urine tests, chest X-rays and medical examination by a general practitioner.
Psychological testing and mental health is not a priority.
Will Mental Health Screening Protect Employers?
GPs might find it very hard to examine a maid's mental health if there are no apparent symptoms. Mental health assessment may also reduce chances of employment for them due to social stigma associated with mental disorders
Psychologist Anja Wessels, lead researcher of the report titled Bonded To The System, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) commented that even though testing is not foolproof, it is still "a step in the right direction".
According to her, there are just too many adverse factors contributing to the mental health of a domestic worker. It is not only genetics, poverty and low education levels. It is also homesickness, the existence of debt, illness, language-related communication barriers and sexually abusive behaviour by the employer or employer’s family.
At the end of the day, the responsibility still lies with us – the employers – to be alert to any changes in behaviour. Have we contributed to it? Even if we didn't and our maids are showing strange behavioural issues, it is our duty to have them examined by psychological counsellors or trained expert.
Why Is the Mental State of Your Maid Important?
Do not shrug off the importance of maids' mental health because they actually represent a very large group of workers we depend a lot on. They are not only hired help to clean the house. We also hire them to care for our loved ones, like the elderly and our young ones.
Having a mental problem is like a ticking time bomb. Anything can happen at any time and I'm sure none of us wish it upon people that we love.
We do not know if the maid charged with murder was of sound mind when the incident happened. Was there a reason behind her actions or was it malicious?
One thing we DO know is that if found guilty, she may never see her family again.
Lead and feature credit: ST PHOTO SCREENGRAB: BENJAMIN SEETOR