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Agency Life

Standing Up for Mental Health

Standing Up for Mental Health

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

October 24, 2018

Boosting awareness. Starting a conversation. Providing an outlet.

"A workplace that takes care of our mental well-being strengthens our capacity to deal with stress and pressure, keeps us from being overwhelmed, and makes us more productive, in control, and confident of capabilities."

October 10th marked World Mental Health Day. But the folks at Havas Ortega in the Philippines are going beyond the annual day and are infusing advocacy for mental health into their agency. Jos Ortega, Chairman and CEO at Havas Ortega, shares how he and his team are making a tangible difference and keeping the conversation going.

 

Mental health issues are impacting people around the globe—how does it specifically affect those in the Philippines?

In the Philippines, one in five people suffers from a mental health problem. This is quite alarming because our country is under-resourced in terms of treating mental health disorders. For every 100,000 people in the Philippines, there are only about three people working in the mental health sector. Mental illness is the third most common form of disability after visual and hearing impairments. The Philippines also has the highest number of depression cases in Southeast Asia—a statistic that the World Health Organization feels is under-reported because of the negative stigma that is still associated with mental illnesses.

While we see more and more people opening up about their mental issues on social media, at home, and in the workplace, it’s still a sensitive issue for many. I think a big part of it is that Filipinos feel uneasy about discussing their mental health issues because they struggle with their own self-perception and what people may think of them if they bring it up. It’s easy when it’s someone else; it’s another thing entirely if it’s you.


How does the workplace impact our mental health?

We spend at least 40 hours of the week at work, and in industries like ours, it’s probably even more. But even at 40 hours per week, that still amounts to one-third of our waking hours spent at the workplace.

We’re constantly faced with challenges and pressures on a daily basis. If we don’t take stock of our mental health, that puts a heavy toll on us. We often take for granted that mental health is not just about the absence of illnesses/disorders like depression and anxiety. It’s also about our ability to cope with the normal stresses of day-to-day life and to work productively and fruitfully. Rigid work environments add to the stress that employees face, making it harder for them to deal with issues. A workplace that takes care of our mental well-being strengthens our capacity to deal with stress and pressure, keeps us from being overwhelmed, and makes us more productive, in control, and confident of capabilities.

"What makes this program even more meaningful is that stays true to Havas Ortega's strength as an agency, its people and its collaboration—helping each other internally."

The World Health Organization reported that only 9% of mental health programs across the globe are focused on the promotion of workplace mental health. How is Havas Ortega looking to change that?

We’d like to be one of the organizations that’s contributing toward increasing that statistic. In the Philippines, we have a long way to go as far as creating the right amount of support systems to address mental health issues as a country. What we can do and have done, however, is start in our own office. We set up a mental health awareness program called TALK. Under this program, we’ve partnered with In Touch Philippines, a non-stock, non-profit organization advocating mental health, to provide an employee well-being program that gives every member of the Havas Ortega Swarm access to a 24/7 crisis line, as well as one-to-one counseling sessions to help them deal with their mental health issues.

Throughout the year, we’ve been conducting TALK Skill Builder Sessions on topics such as mental health awareness and first aid, stress management, and finding grit. These topics came to the fore after an agency-wide poll. In line with World Mental Health Day, we recently implemented our first TALK Wellness Week, which calls on the Swarm to spend at least one hour of their day to mental well-being activities. We conducted classes on tangling, essential oils, chair yoga, coffee making, and calligraphy. We also converted Soul, one of our conference rooms, into a no-work zone and transformed it into a meditation room and art for mindfulness room.

We’re also hoping to push this advocacy outward to encourage other organizations to take on a mental health program in their respective workplaces. We are working closely with In Touch Philippines to help spread awareness about its Employee Well-being program.

What inspired the idea of Havas Ortega’s TALK [Mental Health Consciousness]?

Mental health has always been a sensitive conversation to tackle, especially in the workplace. With the pace of technological progress and the rising demands to become more agile in the field of communications, it’s not hard to see how pressures and challenges can give rise to difficulties in managing work, life, and well-being. We’ve seen this happen especially to younger staffers at Havas Ortega.

The TALK Mental Health program started out as an ad-hoc project launched by five members of our organization: Deputy head of Design Sugar Perez, Junior Designer Darlene Samson, Creative Director Griffey de Guzman, Director for Special Projects Iea Nepomuceno, and our Chairman and CEO, Jos Ortega.

We initially just wanted to provide an avenue for our employees to get professional help via In Touch Philippines’ services. However, at some point, we felt that we could do better by turning it into a full-fledged internal program. This was inspired by insights that we discovered when we ran an ethnography study on Millennial Codes within Asia Pacific, with the Philippines included. We found that unlike our western counterparts, APAC millennials are constantly bridging tensions between the cultural values they were brought up with and the desire for self-discovery and the fulfillment of their passions. They are constantly negotiating in an environment led by generations before them. We thought of what this must do to their mental health, and we wanted to open the conversation in an effort to create a work culture and environment that encourages better empathy and stronger collaboration not just for our millennial workforce, but for everyone.

The TALK Mental Health program is actually not an HR-led project. This program was initiated, was designed, and is being implemented by mental health advocates within the agency specializing in varying disciplines. What makes this program even more meaningful is that stays true to Havas Ortega’s strength as an agency, its people and its collaboration—helping each other internally.

When should someone seek help for mental illness?

A lot of people have a tendency to wait until things are spinning out of control or when they suspect that they’re mentally ill before seeking help. Seek help when you feel that it’s increasingly becoming difficult to cope with life in general or at any point in time when you feel that you’re at an impasse that you can’t resolve on your own. It’s easier to address mental health issues before things get to a point where it becomes a disorder. Sometimes, just opening the conversation about it with someone who is capable of listening and helping you sort through the issue will help a lot.

What are some healthy habits that promote mental health?

Find time for self-care. Devote time to activities that let you focus on yourself, such as exercise, creating artwork, meditation, and yoga. Get out of your normal environment. Every so often, find time to learn and discover something.

Also, reframe your mind to focus on constructive thoughts. Take control of your narrative. Confront your anxieties, identify what causes them, and focus on strategies to move past them. Identify the things that you can’t control. Break difficult tasks into smaller tasks that are easier to deal with one at a time.

And stay connected. Open communication with supervisors, family, friends. Keep your friendships active, both in and out of work. Don’t hesitate to call on them for emotional support.

"A workplace that takes care of our mental well-being strengthens our capacity to deal with stress and pressure, keeps us from being overwhelmed, and makes us more productive, in control, and confident of capabilities."

October 10th marked World Mental Health Day. But the folks at Havas Ortega in the Philippines are going beyond the annual day and are infusing advocacy for mental health into their agency. Jos Ortega, Chairman and CEO at Havas Ortega, shares how he and his team are making a tangible difference and keeping the conversation going.

 

Mental health issues are impacting people around the globe—how does it specifically affect those in the Philippines?

In the Philippines, one in five people suffers from a mental health problem. This is quite alarming because our country is under-resourced in terms of treating mental health disorders. For every 100,000 people in the Philippines, there are only about three people working in the mental health sector. Mental illness is the third most common form of disability after visual and hearing impairments. The Philippines also has the highest number of depression cases in Southeast Asia—a statistic that the World Health Organization feels is under-reported because of the negative stigma that is still associated with mental illnesses.

While we see more and more people opening up about their mental issues on social media, at home, and in the workplace, it’s still a sensitive issue for many. I think a big part of it is that Filipinos feel uneasy about discussing their mental health issues because they struggle with their own self-perception and what people may think of them if they bring it up. It’s easy when it’s someone else; it’s another thing entirely if it’s you.


How does the workplace impact our mental health?

We spend at least 40 hours of the week at work, and in industries like ours, it’s probably even more. But even at 40 hours per week, that still amounts to one-third of our waking hours spent at the workplace.

We’re constantly faced with challenges and pressures on a daily basis. If we don’t take stock of our mental health, that puts a heavy toll on us. We often take for granted that mental health is not just about the absence of illnesses/disorders like depression and anxiety. It’s also about our ability to cope with the normal stresses of day-to-day life and to work productively and fruitfully. Rigid work environments add to the stress that employees face, making it harder for them to deal with issues. A workplace that takes care of our mental well-being strengthens our capacity to deal with stress and pressure, keeps us from being overwhelmed, and makes us more productive, in control, and confident of capabilities.

"What makes this program even more meaningful is that stays true to Havas Ortega's strength as an agency, its people and its collaboration—helping each other internally."

The World Health Organization reported that only 9% of mental health programs across the globe are focused on the promotion of workplace mental health. How is Havas Ortega looking to change that?

We’d like to be one of the organizations that’s contributing toward increasing that statistic. In the Philippines, we have a long way to go as far as creating the right amount of support systems to address mental health issues as a country. What we can do and have done, however, is start in our own office. We set up a mental health awareness program called TALK. Under this program, we’ve partnered with In Touch Philippines, a non-stock, non-profit organization advocating mental health, to provide an employee well-being program that gives every member of the Havas Ortega Swarm access to a 24/7 crisis line, as well as one-to-one counseling sessions to help them deal with their mental health issues.

Throughout the year, we’ve been conducting TALK Skill Builder Sessions on topics such as mental health awareness and first aid, stress management, and finding grit. These topics came to the fore after an agency-wide poll. In line with World Mental Health Day, we recently implemented our first TALK Wellness Week, which calls on the Swarm to spend at least one hour of their day to mental well-being activities. We conducted classes on tangling, essential oils, chair yoga, coffee making, and calligraphy. We also converted Soul, one of our conference rooms, into a no-work zone and transformed it into a meditation room and art for mindfulness room.

We’re also hoping to push this advocacy outward to encourage other organizations to take on a mental health program in their respective workplaces. We are working closely with In Touch Philippines to help spread awareness about its Employee Well-being program.

What inspired the idea of Havas Ortega’s TALK [Mental Health Consciousness]?

Mental health has always been a sensitive conversation to tackle, especially in the workplace. With the pace of technological progress and the rising demands to become more agile in the field of communications, it’s not hard to see how pressures and challenges can give rise to difficulties in managing work, life, and well-being. We’ve seen this happen especially to younger staffers at Havas Ortega.

The TALK Mental Health program started out as an ad-hoc project launched by five members of our organization: Deputy head of Design Sugar Perez, Junior Designer Darlene Samson, Creative Director Griffey de Guzman, Director for Special Projects Iea Nepomuceno, and our Chairman and CEO, Jos Ortega.

We initially just wanted to provide an avenue for our employees to get professional help via In Touch Philippines’ services. However, at some point, we felt that we could do better by turning it into a full-fledged internal program. This was inspired by insights that we discovered when we ran an ethnography study on Millennial Codes within Asia Pacific, with the Philippines included. We found that unlike our western counterparts, APAC millennials are constantly bridging tensions between the cultural values they were brought up with and the desire for self-discovery and the fulfillment of their passions. They are constantly negotiating in an environment led by generations before them. We thought of what this must do to their mental health, and we wanted to open the conversation in an effort to create a work culture and environment that encourages better empathy and stronger collaboration not just for our millennial workforce, but for everyone.

The TALK Mental Health program is actually not an HR-led project. This program was initiated, was designed, and is being implemented by mental health advocates within the agency specializing in varying disciplines. What makes this program even more meaningful is that stays true to Havas Ortega’s strength as an agency, its people and its collaboration—helping each other internally.

When should someone seek help for mental illness?

A lot of people have a tendency to wait until things are spinning out of control or when they suspect that they’re mentally ill before seeking help. Seek help when you feel that it’s increasingly becoming difficult to cope with life in general or at any point in time when you feel that you’re at an impasse that you can’t resolve on your own. It’s easier to address mental health issues before things get to a point where it becomes a disorder. Sometimes, just opening the conversation about it with someone who is capable of listening and helping you sort through the issue will help a lot.

What are some healthy habits that promote mental health?

Find time for self-care. Devote time to activities that let you focus on yourself, such as exercise, creating artwork, meditation, and yoga. Get out of your normal environment. Every so often, find time to learn and discover something.

Also, reframe your mind to focus on constructive thoughts. Take control of your narrative. Confront your anxieties, identify what causes them, and focus on strategies to move past them. Identify the things that you can’t control. Break difficult tasks into smaller tasks that are easier to deal with one at a time.

And stay connected. Open communication with supervisors, family, friends. Keep your friendships active, both in and out of work. Don’t hesitate to call on them for emotional support.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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