40,000 domestic helpers suffer mental health problems

domestic_worker_suffering (annabrixthomsen)

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New HOME research shows many women work long hours, do not get a rest day, suffer invasion of privacy and are not being treated with dignity

HAVE you noticed that many of the Filipino women who flock to Lucky Plaza during the weekend, have sad, worried faces? Sure our kababayans are generally a cheerful lot. The sound of their happy voices, chatting away in Tagalog and other dialects that you will hear the length of Orchard Road is a sign that they are indeed in good spirits.

But look carefully, and you will see that not all our kababayan are full of cheer. Some of them wear their heartaches on their faces – their foreheads are lined, their mouths are tightly pursed, their eyes are bright with tension. Their conversation, when they talk, is shrill and angry.

Of course, we all have our worries about work, money, our health, the family, our spouse. The problems are many, especially when we are far away from the familiarity of home. Many of us can cope…we pray, we have good friends to share our lives with, our stomachs are reasonably filled, our employers are reasonable people. We thank God for our little blessings.

But some of us are burdened by all our problems to the point that we become very depressed. And this mental health problem of depression is widespread among domestic helpers.

One out of every 5 domestic helpers in Singapore are afflicted by mental health problems, according to a new research by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME). What this means is that out of the 200,000 domestic helpers, 40,000 are burden by poor mental health. And 40,000 is a huge number, by any account.

Here are some of the reasons why these domestic helpers are feeling depressed:


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Here are more findings that could contribute to stress in the lives of domestic helpers. Participants in the HOME survey say:

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Overall, the survey results clearly demonstrate that the participants face an elevated level of mental distress.

And how can this problem of stress be removed?

The HOME study says that domestic helpers will get a sense of “protection” and mental well-being if they are integrated into the employer’s family. Having privacy and being treated with dignity will also help create this sense of protection.

Employers must remember that they can and should help provide for their domestic helper’s sense of well-being by not resorting to any form of physical and verbal abuse as well as invasions of privacy.

One big problem is communication, especially when employers and their domestic helpers do not speak the same language. The solution is obvious, or so it seems: Employ a helper that can speak the language of the family. But this is easier said than done. The helper may speak English but elderly members of the family may not be able to do so. The inability to communicate can lead to distressing situations.

Still, domestic helpers must know that good communication with their employers is very important as employers play a key role in their mental wellness, says Porsche Poh, executive director of Silver Ribbon, a local non-profit working to combat mental health stigma.

The question is: How can a domestic helper do more in the area of communication?

Perhaps, basic courses in languages other than English can be provided by the various schools offering skills improvement courses.

Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of HOME, said: “We believe the findings of our survey are just the tip of the iceberg. They are based on interviews with workers whom we could get access to. What about those who are not allowed out at all?

“We cannot afford to ignore the mental wellbeing of FDWs without undermining their health and the interests of employers and their families.”

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