Here’s a startling fact: According to the latest report from the Department of Health, 1 in every 5 Filipinos suffer from a form of mental illness. What’s more, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the workplace is one of the key environments that affect our well-being.
Which is why the folks at Havas Ortega recently held a program to promote mental health wellness among its employees, partnering with local mental health non-profit organization InTouch. Referring to the company’s millennial majority in their workforce, Havas CEO Jos Ortega says “if they’re suffering, it’s because we created that environment for them. So we should help solve it rather than castigate them.”
Technology, a blessing and a curse
Believe it or not, there was a time when your boss could not reach you 24/7. But with the advancement in technology, the powers that be seem to take this as a permission to invade your privacy even after the designated office hours. “The changes that the internet has wrought in our social-cultural environment is what affects many of the issues we’re dealing with right now,” says Maria Belen Hizon, Resident Psychiatrist and Counselor of InTouch Community Services. “There wasn’t immediate gratification in the past. Now your boss can text you at midnight and expect a reply in two minutes.”
Ergo, the new normal
For better or worse, this is the world we live in now. And everyone has to adjust. This environment of instant gratification and hyper-information wears on us, whether we realize it or not. Hizon says that using the example of bosses needing their employees to be at their beck and call, the onus is upon us to immediately respond because of our fear of failure. “We don’t want people to be disappointed in us.” She says that all these contribute to a fragile ego, with a general lack of coping skills.
The need to bridge the gap between generations of workers
Like many in his generation, Ortega was taught to grin and bear it when it comes to work. He does acknowledge that the new generation needs time to process things. In his company, he says 74 percent are millennials, and he wants to find solutions to help those in his workforce to stay inspired and motivated.
“We spend at least 9 hours a day at our workplaces,” says Philippa Keys, ex-officio of InTouch Philippines. “If it’s not a healthy environment for your mind, body and soul, your output and morale will definitely suffer.”
Thankfully, more companies are acknowledging mental health in the workplace
The reason for this is simple: productivity. After all, the company is only as good as their employees. In a study conducted by the World Health Organization, they found out that the global economy loses up to 1 trillion US dollars annually due to lost productivity caused by mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
“More companies are going beyond HMO coverage, which usually deals with the physical side of wellness,” says Angeline Celestial, EAP Manager of InTouch Community Services. “Companies see the value of caring for the mental wellness of their employees, not just for their workforce but also to equip themselves to deal with the issues regarding mental health.”
Still, the stigma is there
Compared to other countries, in the West specifically, the Philippines lags far behind as far as openness about mental health is concerned, the passage of Mental Health Law notwithstanding. “There’s hardly that stigma anymore,” Celestial agrees, about Western countries being more open regarding mental health. “Counseling is pretty normal for them.”
While there’s a growing awareness in the country about mental wellness, seeking help for it is another matter altogether. The main barrier here is culture. “When we have marital problems, most families would rather go to their priest than counseling,” Hizon points out as an example. “In our culture, we like to take care of each other. We don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable, which is why we tend to bottle up all these anxieties rather than talk about them,” she adds.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all
It’s a given: we will be anxious. It’s a part of life. But we all have different ways of coping with stress. Some find it more difficult to cope than others. “Two people given the same stimuli, let’s say a deadline at 5PM, might react differently,” says Hizon. “Both will be stressed, but one will overcome it and deliver. The other one might be overwhelmed and say ‘oh this is too much, I can’t deal with it. I quit!‘ That needs to be addressed.”
Mental health education is key
Another downside to the internet and the various soapbox it has given all of us is the tendency to use the word ‘depression’ loosely, commonly as one’s status in social media. “Clinical Depression is quite different from being sad,” says Hizon. Not being able to go out with friends might make you sad, but that does not necessarily make you depressed. This is where groups like InTouch comes in: opening the conversation on mental health and raising awareness.
Having said that, it is still best to overreact when someone is constantly saying they are ‘depressed’ or ‘sad’. The accessibility of information on the internet is largely unprecedented, and younger people may not necessarily be prepared to process these information. There’s no telling how harmful to them some of the content that are out there on the web, no matter how innocuous they may seem to the older generation.
There’s a lot of information on the internet. There are also a lot of misinformation. One thing’s for sure: we are not equip to deal with this influx of information and the speed at which these are being delivered to us. Remember, it was only in the 90’s that the internet has invaded our lives. There has never been a precedent for all of these.
Hizon reiterates the need for prevention, which is why she would like to encourage talking openly about mental health. As with all illnesses, prevention is key. And once an illness is present, management of it is crucial.
To know more about mental health, or if you want to seek counseling, visit InTouch on their website.