On June 20, 2018, the Mental Health Act (Republic Act No. 1103) was signed into a law, and took effect the following month, on July 5.
Among other things, the law aims to enhance the delivery of mental health services; promote and protect the right of people getting psychosocial health services; and establish policies that would give Filipinos their right to mental health. It wants to take away the stigma and discrimination against people with mental health diseases.
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In the workplace, this law should be implemented. But because the law is new, and the country has only recently profusely discussed the topic on mental health, the policies have yet to be set in stone. Fortunately, there are steps that can take now to make sure that companies are held liable for the mental health condition of their employees.
This—and many more work-related mental health issues—was the topic at the Mind at Work: Mental Health in the Workplace talk, held last month at The Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Mental health advocate Nana Nadal organized the event, and invited speakers Dr. Robert Buenaventura, a psychiatrist and a fellow at the Philippine Psychiatric Association, and Jo Ann Rosary Asetre, a career management consultant and director of Lee Hecht Harrison Philippines, a talent development and transition company.
The three-hour talk and open forum revolved around the most basic strategy to having a more mentally stable group of employees: communication.
The need to express
Reality hits hard: not all bosses, or colleagues, or human resource (HR) officers are comfortable—or open to—talking about someone’s mental health issues.
That’s why both speakers agree that policies must be set so everyone is guided. Ideally, companies should already include services or activities involving mental health in their budget—for free counseling, meditation, outsourcing experts, etc. But Dr. Buenaventura says, according to the law, implementing this would still depend on the financial capacity and capability of the company.
Luckily, there are small companies that put the mental health of employees as part of their top priorities. For now, according to Dr. Buenaventura, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Health (DOH), the civil service, employers, and other professional organization have to discuss “the extent of help that each company can provide.”
If a person is already aware of his or her mental health issues, Asetre suggests that it might be better for him or her to research on the company’s mental health policies before even applying for a job there.
There is also a way to incorporate mental health that is, as she puts it, “out of the box.” The employee benefits, for instance, may be flexible enough to include mental health as a separate entity in the same vein as vacation leaves, gym membership, or rice allowance. Mental health examinations may also go hand-in-hand with annual physical examinations.
In general, Dr. Buenaventura says, it is best to make it “normal for employees to go to a counselor.” For instance, HR and the bosses should try to make make the employees feel that they can talk to them, and, most importantly, that they will take these matters with utmost confidentiality.
In some cases, Asetre says, an employee may not be so lucky with their companies: “Then seek external support.”
Immediate feedback is also critical for more functional work environment. Asetre says that an evaluation process co-designed by employees and leaders must be put in place. Frequent evaluation is a way to know if, for example, work performance is changing erratically, which may be a sign of an underlying mental health issue. Before the evaluation, both parties must agree to be as honest as possible, and to take criticism with an open mind. A company may also opt to have frequent performance and mental health assessments as part of their policy.
But how does one know if the troublesome emotions or thoughts are signs of a mental health disease, or simply part of work stress?
To answer this question, Dr. Buenaventura turns the conversation back to the basic strategy: communicate those thoughts and feelings. “Talk to a person you trust,” he tells ANCX. “It can be a best friend, a sibling, a colleague. Talk to them, ‘I’m experiencing this. ‘This is what’s happening to me.’ ‘What do you think?’ Why am I recommending that? Because these are people who know you well. When you say, ‘I think something is changing,’ then they’ll be in a better position to let you know, ‘Oo nga,’ Or maybe, ‘Hindi, dati ka na ganyan. That’s how you usually behave.’ They can help validate.”
This is relevant especially for freelancers, who do not have access to HR. The psychiatrist says anyone can seek help from organizations such as the Philippine Psychiatric Association, the Philippine Mental Health Association, and The National Center for Mental Health, to name a few. These are organizations who can offer services for free or at a minimal cost.
Lastly, do not diagnose a colleague when you are not a mental health professional. This can only lead to discrimination and further stigma. “Some people just behave a certain way [and don’t really have mental health issues],” Dr. Buenaventura says. When an employee is having problems with a colleague, immediately settle the issue with HR or with the bosses. Prolonging such issues may lead to bigger problems.
“Companies are still seeking guidance on mental health in the workplace,” the doctor concludes. “Because they need to understand cost, and the processes that they need to put in place. With the laws right now, we want to be able to be more open about it. In the end, how you deal with it is still a personal choice.”
For people who are struggling with mental health problems, or those who think that they have a mental health problem, no matter how difficult may it be, find a way to take that first step: communicate.
Talk to someone.
The National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotlines are 0917-899-USAP or 989-USAP.