The survey, involving domestic workers from the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia, is to assess these workers’ mental well-being by getting their views on the living and working conditions in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: A study of about 700 foreign domestic workers showed that 24 per cent of them could be suffering from poor mental health.

Conducted by the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) from November 2013 to May 2014, the survey involved domestic workers from the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia. The aim was to assess these workers’ mental well-being by getting their views on the living and working conditions in Singapore

Mental health was assessed with the Brief Symptom Inventory, a standardised and recognised instrument which has been used in more than 400 research studies.

Currently, there are more than 210,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore.

HOME has provided shelter for about 700 women so far – most of whom had run away from their employers after being abused. This provided the impetus for the migrant workers’ group to embark on this first-of-its-kind study in Singapore to establish the satisfaction levels of foreign domestic workers.


The survey showed that 73 per cent of respondents experienced some form of restriction by their employer. Some claimed they were not allowed to make phone calls, and there were some who said they were barred from talking to fellow maids.

Said HOME Executive Director Jolovan Wham: “There are many migrant domestic workers that we know, who have had their phones confiscated, especially during the first six to eight months of their employment.

“If you have just arrived in Singapore – especially if it’s the first time you are leaving your country to work – and you don’t have your phone to communicate with your friends or family, this can be detrimental to your emotional and mental well-being.

“And this leads to depression, home-sickness and anxiety. Ultimately it’s not good for the employer too. An employee who has psychological problems and mental health issues won’t be able to perform well at work. She won’t be able to look after the elderly parents, children and babies well.”

Meanwhile, 74 per cent of respondents also reported experiencing some form of restriction on movement by their employer. This includes not being allowed to leave the house freely and being locked up in the house or in a room.

51 per cent of the respondents said they were verbally abused. In more serious cases, some claimed they were shouted at and called names. At the same time, 35 per cent of them experienced some form of economic abuse, with some citing late salary payment as an example. 59 per cent of them said they have had their privacy breached.

On the other hand, more than half of them felt integrated into their employer’s family.


The study showed that some of workers were suffering from depression and psychoticism – a condition in which one loses contact with reality and experiences hallucinations and paranoia.

“Right now, if a domestic worker in Singapore suffers from mental health problems, she has very limited options,” said HOME Research Consultant Anya Wessels. “There’s no medical coverage that includes mental health problems. The only option she has right now is to call HOME and we refer her to Silver Ribbon. But there isn’t any official channel. And if she reports mental health (problems), she might fear repatriation.”

HOME said employers and foreign domestic workers should try to improve communication. It also urged employers to ensure that their maids get a full rest day every week. HOME also called on the Government to strictly enforce this.

– CNA/ek