KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — Part-time workers suffered the most during the movement control order (MCO) when compared to others, as a relatively higher percentage of them reported unpaid leave, pay cuts and retrenchments, an April survey in the early stages of MCO showed.

In the April 5 to April 10 survey by research outfit The Centre, many of the 605 respondents who were already in the workplace before the MCO said that they experienced a change in their work status when many businesses had to temporarily shut down during the MCO.

When it came to those who suddenly found themselves unable to work during the MCO period, respondents who were business owners experienced the biggest change with 66 per cent saying they could not work, followed by the self-employed and freelancers (59 per cent), part-time employees (27 per cent) and full-time employees (just four per cent).

For part-time employees in the survey, a larger percentage of them experienced negative work status changes, with this category experiencing the highest levels of retrenchment (seven per cent), highest levels of going on unpaid leave and reduced pay (both at 20 per cent).

“Full-time employees appear to be the most stable out of all job types, with 88 per cent of them experiencing no change,” The Centre said, with the survey results showing no retrenchments among full-time staff polled and with just six per cent reporting reduced pay and just two per cent reporting being put on unpaid leave.

Negative emotions during MCO

From the survey, The Centre found that at least 30 per cent of the respondents — across all employment status during the MCO — reported experiencing some negative emotions, whether it is being depressed, or feeling anxious and/or stressed.

In the survey, respondents were asked to rate their level of negative emotions ranging from extremely severe, severe, moderate, mild and normal.

“Those on unpaid leave reported the highest level of depression (68 per cent) while those who were retrenched reported the highest levels of anxiety and stress (62 per cent respectively),” The Centre said, when commenting on the overall percentage who felt mild to extremely severe levels of such negative emotions.

For those who were retrenched, those who reported extremely severe depression and extremely severe anxiety were both at 38 per cent, while 25 per cent said they had extremely severe feelings of stress and 13 per cent reported severe stress levels.

For those on unpaid leave, those with extremely severe and severe levels of depression were at 21 and 11 per cent respectively, while 37 per cent had extremely severe anxiety and 11 per cent had severe anxiety levels, with just five per cent having extremely severe stress and 26 per cent reporting severe stress.

Top three groups with negative mental well-being

The survey also looked at the wider pool of 720 respondents that included not just those who are employed, but also those who are employed, students, stay-at-home parents and retirees.

According to The Centre, the survey showed that students and the unemployed consistently experience the most negative well-being whether it is depression, anxiety and stress, followed by part-time employees in the third spot.

Based on the survey, the top four groups in terms of those reporting depression are part-time employees (60 per cent), students (58 per cent), unemployed and the self-employed/ freelance groups (54 per cent each), and for those reporting anxiety are students (62 per cent), unemployed (54 per cent), part-time employee (47 per cent), stay-at-home parent (45 per cent).

As for stress of any levels, the top groups are the unemployed (46 per cent), students, part-time employee, self-employed/ freelance groups all at 40 per cent.

— Screengrab from The Centre’s website
— Screengrab from The Centre’s website

— Screengrab from The Centre’s website
— Screengrab from The Centre’s website

— Screengrab from The Centre’s website
— Screengrab from The Centre’s website

Why are students depressed, stressed, anxious?

When commenting on the high levels of negative emotions in students, The Centre said this matches its findings in the even wider pool of 1,084 in the survey, where those in the 18-24 age group more likely to report experiencing negative emotions compared to other age groups. Students accounted for 90 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 in the survey.

“Qualitative data suggests that this may be driven by employment issues: student responses to an open-ended question asking what their main worries post-MCO were largely identified being fresh graduates at a time of economic uncertainty as a major concern.

“Indeed, the Malaysian Employers Federation warned fresh graduates of a bleak job market post-MCO due to business taking cost-cutting measures,” The Centre said.

The government’s official statistics released last week also showed that unemployment rate in Malaysia has shot up to 3.9 per cent in March — the highest since June 2010 while the number of unemployed persons for the same month stood at 610,500.

Malaysia’s chief statistician yesterday said the unemployment rate for this year could be 3.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent, due to the impact of Covid-19.

Policy recommendations

With the projected increased unemployment and economic uncertainty, research outfit The Centre said it was likely that there will be more Malaysians experiencing negative mental well-being as they struggle with the economic fallout of Covid-19.

The research group said that mental health support in Malaysia must be urgently improved through several measures, including by increasing job opportunities and training to address the low number of mental health experts and professionals in Malaysia.

The Centre noted that the Health Ministry’s latest data showed that Malaysia currently has 0.5 psychiatrists to 100,000 persons (compared to the World Health Organisation’s recommended 1 to 100,000 ratio) and 0.21 clinical psychologists to every 100,000 persons (below the global median of 1.1 to 100,000 ratio).

The Centre also suggested that vulnerable communities be assisted by having trusted members of the community work together with mental health professionals to increase mental health literacy within their communities.

The Centre also proposed increased mental health support and financial assistance to those with precarious employment situations — who are more likely to suffer economically and have more negative emotions — to help them weather the expected economic downturn.

The research group said Malaysia could give more incentive to insurance providers to expand insurance coverage from just critical mental illness to cover mental well-being as well, also proposing efforts to increase awareness and incentivise employers to “give more mental well-being support to their employees during this difficult time”.

Among other things, the same survey had also collected the views of the respondents on their top financial worries during MCO and in the future when the MCO is lifted, as well as recording a decline in household income across the board during the MCO.