Ensuring workers’ mental health

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    THE Department of Labor (DOLE) has become one of the first government agencies to comply with the newly passed Republic Act 11036, the Mental Health Act and Republic Act 11058, the Act Strengthening Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Standards and Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof. This is because the department, under Secretary Silvestre Bello III, issued Department Order No. 208 on February 11, 2020 requiring all work places and establishments in the formal sector to craft a mental health policy and program for implementation among the work force.

    The mental health policy will be jointly prepared by management and representatives of the workers, and shall be made an integral part of the company’s occupational safety and health (OSH) policies and programs.

    It is worthy to cite that the order provides even private organizations in the medical and mental health services to participate in advising workers and management on what items to include in their mental health policy formulation. Aside from the Department of Health, also on hand to help are the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP), Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA), Philippine Neurological Association (PNA), Philippine Guidance and Counseling Association (PGCA), and the Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA).

    With the institutionalization of mental health policy, employers will now be made aware of health problems of their workers that cannot be readily seen. Workers, for their part, stand to benefit from knowing basic information and related facts on mental health conditions. While the stigma about mental health conditions may be addressed by such a policy, support and access to medical health services shall also be provided to workers who are at risk or with mental health condition.

    A good mental health policy at the work places should ensure that discrimination will not rear its ugly head against workers who are at risk of developing mental health conditions.

    They would not be discriminated against in matters of hiring, promotion, and benefits, but employers’ interest is protected by the provision that such condition shall not interfere with the employee’s performance of his job or unduly affect his own safety or that of his co-workers, clients and the general public.

    When we talk about labor problems, what comes to mind are ENDO, working hours, basic salaries, leaves and benefits, but we seldom realize that work burnout is also a problem especially among workers who have already spent some time in their jobs. The mental health policy is also expected to address this problem of work burnout, initially by reviewing the workload of each worker. Also included in the concern about burnout are work-related stress and stressors which include “interpersonal issues with superiors, subordinates, co-employees, clients and customers.”

    The matter of mental health becomes a little more urgent when viewed from the larger perspective that workers, seriously stressed, take their own lives or commit suicide at home or even in the workplace, as in the case of several tech companies in Silicon Valley.

    It is a welcome development that we have in the Philippines the new Mental Health Act, and that the Department of Labor is implementing it. With the government regulatory body on labor taking the lead, the private sector especially the nation’s employers will have to follow the law.

    Even employers will soon discover and validate that the policy of promoting workers’ well-being toward their healthy and productive lives will also redound to economic benefits for business owners.