Being far from home and family, living in someone else’s house and undertaking physically difficult work is the reality for many domestic helpers in Singapore. While they’re employed to make your life easier, their mental well-being is important, too.
Some may be better at coping with this stress than others. However, in its 2015 report detailing the working and living conditions of Singapore’s helper population, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) found that surveyed participants experienced a high average of mental distress when compared to a “normal” (non-helper) population.
Some of the key risk factors for poor mental health: abusive behaviour from an employer, language barriers causing communication issues with the employer, invasion of privacy as well as debt problems and concerns about family back home.
Does your helper need help?
“The warning signs of potential mental health problems include sudden changes in sleeping and eating patterns, being too quiet, being socially withdrawn, excessive anger, uncontrollable crying and a sudden loss of weight,” says Sheena Kanwar, executive director of HOME, “Other more serious conditions may include high levels of anxiety, depression or psychoticism such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia or catatonia.”
If you notice that your helper displays any of these signs, sit down with her in a non-threatening environment and ask her how she’s feeling. And, if you find that she does need help, start by calmly explaining the many options available for her, from professional counselling to phone helplines.
While you can’t force your helper to seek treatment, if she does agree to see a medical professional, know that you will be responsible for any expenses incurred, according to the regulations under Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
If you believe she is not fit for work, even after pursuing treatment, 121 Personnel managing director Eddy Lam advises that the general procedure is for the treating doctor or counsellor to ensure that the helper is able to travel, then she is sent back to her home country to recover.
Where to get help
Most local neighbourhoods in Singapore have Family Service Centres, which offer free counselling services. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) catalogues centres around you.
Over-the-phone options might work better if your helper isn’t comfortable with face-to-face counselling. The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) helpline is open 24 hours, while the Association of Women for Action and Research’s (AWARE) helpline is open on weekdays from 3 to 9:30 p.m. HOME’s hotline is mostly used for domestic workers in crises, but it still can assist with referrals to the appropriate organisation or service.
“Providing good working conditions and treating your helper with respect creates a good foundation to prevent stress,” recommends Sheena.
Eddy concurs, noting that employers should abide by the MOM rule of giving a daily rest period of at least eight continuous hours. “Helpers are not very different from office workers; they, too, need time to relax,” he says.
By Karola Clark, The Finder (Issue 286), / Updated October 2019
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