Ms Anthea Ong

Ms. Anthea Ong was a Nominated Member of Parliament, 13th Parliament of Singapore (2018-2020). She is a full-time entrepreneur and social advocate, and has championed for multiple social issues most notably mental health and caregiving, and is member of the Tripartite Oversight Committee for Workplace Safety & Health.

In the last 9 years, Anthea founded several ground up initiatives including Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar that empowers and employs only the deaf and persons-in-recovery from mental health conditions to bring self-care and social inclusion to every workplace and community.

She formed the WorkWell Leaders Workgroup to champion workplace mental health and employee wellbeing as a leadership priority, and co-created A Good Space, Singapore’s first co-operative of community changemakers, to encourage cross sector collaboration across a diverse range of social issues. She was also appointed a member of the Singapore Mental Health Conference 2021.

What motivates you to champion for mental wellness?

For me personally, I had experienced depression about 15 years ago when I had a collapse of my life. I had been successful and felt like I had it all, having a lot of resources at different levels; but the collapse that matched up was colossal. I went through a heart-shattering divorce, a failing business, a depleting bank account with just $16. It got me to a deep dark place resulting in suicide ideation one night. I have always been a strong woman, a strong person. That experience allowed me to see that we really need to have a different narrative about mental health. It is not a matter of socio-economic factors, or any sort of predisposition that you may have, which obviously, can be a factor. But it was not for me. That was when I realised there is such a need to debunk myths and to dispel all these misconceptions. I had, and still do, have a strong support system both in terms of family and friends, but it didn’t stop be from going to that very dark place. How much tougher would it be for those who do not have that same support system?

What do you hope to achieve from participating in this campaign, and how does it tie in with what you’re working on at the moment?

I have always been supportive of CAL’s work and have highlighted to our ministers that there needs to be a national caregivers’ strategy. It is a real issue and has become a very big issue. We did a public consultation in preparation of my Budget 2020 debates and 400 members of the public came forward to give their views. Caregiving was one of the themes that came out. Where mental health is concerned, and with all the other challenges we’ve had, this conversation had been muted and side-lined. We don’t realise that for every person with a mental health condition or disability – there could be more than one caregiver. When you multiply that number, it’s phenomenal.

There are four types of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver. How do we provide more support, more capabilities, more skills? Caregiving affects all of us, yet this role is, ironically, one of the most undervalued in our society. That is why I’ve been deeply concerned that caregiving has not been talked about enough, not considered enough and not policy made enough. As I am such an advocate for women’s issues – caregiving is also a gender issue. There is also an emotion caregiving comes with where you’re most at risk of being susceptible to mental health challenges.

We're very thankful that you've come in to support us so great. Could you maybe just tell us about what you're doing at the moment? What are your current projects?

I am spending a lot of time with WorkWell Leaders Workgroup as we become a registered charity, and have also formalised A Good Space into a co-operative last March and have been ramping up the activities post circuit breaker.

A Good Space is Singapore’s first co-operative for changemakers, by changemakers, amongst which there are many who are change making for mental health. So, the idea is to create this community where we can come together and where there is mutual aid, co-ownership as a co-operative. Together, we pool our resources, and do not duplicate what someone else in the co-operative has done. This is where intersectionality can come together. As opposed to only keeping within the sectors we are used to, such as elderly versus youth. Ultimately, good social issues are connected.

Finally, I’m also working on promoting my book again; 50 Shades of Love where net proceeds are meant for psychosocial development programs, particularly for vulnerable children.