web hit counter

‘I felt so alone’: domestic workers in Hong Kong suffering mental health issues like depression can find support in MeHeal, a new, free counselling service

32

“We had a lot of domestic workers saying there is a lot of awareness about the importance of mental health, but no service available for them,” says Manisha Wijesinghe, executive director of Help for Domestic Workers.

Manisha Wijesinghe, executive director of Help for Domestic Workers, wants to destigmatise the issue of mental health for domestic workers. Photo: Jonathan Wong

“Practically, it’s difficult for them to access,” says Wijesinghe. “Their day off is on Sunday, and the Hospital Authority services only run on weekdays. Plus, there is a stigma to it. They don’t want to tell their employer they have depression, especially when they are taking care of babies or elderly family members.”

Those who are not employed – who may, for example, still be in Hong Kong waiting for a legal case to be heard – do not have access to the public system.

In the migrant worker community, there is a lot of stigma around mental health. There is a thinking that if you ask for help you are weak

Catalina, Hong Kong domestic worker

In response to the urgent demand for mental health support, Help for Domestic Workers soft-launched MeHeal in late 2020. This service offers free in-person or phone counselling by trained counsellors. Now in its third year, the service is being fully launched on October 10, World Mental Health Day.

Catalina used MeHeal when she was experiencing depression during the pandemic. Photo: May Tse
The financial pressure and stress of finding new employment, compounded by testing positive for Covid-19 twice, led Catalina into a state of depression that only hit when her employer left Hong Kong on a two-month trip.

“I felt so alone. I didn’t go out, I just wanted to lie down. I felt so weak and tired and wanted to sleep all day and night. I didn’t want to bathe,” says Catalina.

“One day, I realised I hadn’t eaten for a day and went to the fridge. It was empty. I left the flat and the security guard downstairs said I hadn’t been out for two weeks. That was when I realised I had to do something.”

Catalina has come through one of the darkest periods of her life feeling so much stronger. Photo: May Tse

She contacted her friend Rodelia Pedro Villar, a fellow domestic worker, who called Help for Domestic Workers and put her in touch with a counsellor.

“The counsellor spoke to me in my own language and understands my culture, which made it so much easier to open up,” says Catalina.

“She really listened to me and I felt that she understood what I was feeling. I had a session with her every week for two months and she texted me in between. Talking about things made me feel so much better.”

She grew up during a civil war. Now she fights for domestic workers’ rights

Catalina learned breathing techniques and other coping skills and gradually her depression lifted. She became more active in her community, volunteering and supporting others. She says she has come through one of the darkest periods of her life feeling so much stronger.
“In the migrant worker community, there is a lot of stigma around mental health. There is a thinking that if you ask for help you are weak. We are afraid that if we open up, what we say will go back to the Philippines,” says Catalina.

“Many of my friends don’t tell their problems to their family. We try to pretend that we are superhuman. But in reality, we are not.”

When one person becomes more comfortable speaking about their experiences, it encourages others to open up

Heda Bayron, volunteer counsellor with MeHeal

Since November 2021, Heda Bayron has been volunteering as a counsellor with MeHeal. As a fellow Filipino, Bayron is able to communicate with clients in their mother tongue and understands the cultural nuances and stigma surrounding mental health issues in the Philippines.

“Within the domestic worker community, they really try to project that they are OK. They don’t want their families to worry. And they don’t want their employers to see them vulnerable because they fear they will lose their job,” says Bayron.

The stigma surrounding mental health in the Philippines is starting to shift as Filipino celebrities open up about their struggles on social media, she adds.

“When one person becomes more comfortable speaking about their experiences, it encourages others to open up. It is real lived experience.”

Since November 2021, Heda Bayron has been volunteering as a counsellor with MeHeal. Photo: Heda Bayron
Although Hong Kong’s mask mandate has been lifted and the pandemic is officially over, many people are still struggling with mental health issues. Domestic workers who were unable to return home during Covid-19 are now facing a post-pandemic surge of issues that they may not have been aware of before. These range from parenting problems to infidelity and marriage break-ups.

“We often don’t see domestic workers as people who also carry a lot of burden in their lives. Showing compassion and empathy in the employer-employee relationship, anything that will make them feel heard and felt makes a big difference,” Bayron says.

MeHeal not only offers free counselling services to those in need but also provides free physical well-being sessions such as yoga, meditation and workouts.

Coco Lee’s death highlights enduring stigma surrounding mental health issues

If you know someone who could benefit from these services, please direct them to helpfordomesticworkers.org, or suggest they call 2523 4020 or WhatsApp 5936 3780.

Article was originally published from here

Comments are closed.