Reducing Mental Health Stigma and Creating a Safer Working Environment in Jordan’s Garment Factories: One Worker’s Journey

22 Jun 2023

“Learn how to recognize and deal with the stigma of mental health and don’t let it stand in the way of getting treatment.” – Monira Dhaka

DULAIL, Jordan – Wanting to help her family to make ends meet, 35-year-old Monira Dhaka is a sewing operator who arrived in Jordan from Bangladesh in 2022.

“I arrived with depression, sadness and anxiety, with serious emotional issues that were not sufficiently addressed locally back in Bangladesh,” Monira says.  She endured deep bouts of depression silently.

During her first year working at the garment factory, Monira was unable to remain in her role as a pattern maker due to her deteriorating mental health condition.  Fortunately, Monira’s supervisor recognized the urgent situation and acted quickly, transferring her role to sewing operator, thinking that would offer a less stressful working environment. “My supervisor was having second thoughts and considering flying me back to Bangladesh, as I was not coping well with my colleagues and the overall environment. I constantly felt moody, was crying for no reason, and was depressed,” Monira shared.

Despite the transfer, in January 2023, Monira felt overwhelmed, and she no longer had the energy to pretend she was okay.  Monira said, “Chaos in my head has never escalated like that before. I called my supervisor — a phone call that truly saved me.”Later that day, Monira was invited to meet a therapist at his nearby office.This was the day that Monira learned about Better Work Jordan’s mental health clinic in Dulail, near the garment factories, where services are made available to all workers. She started on a treatment schedule that included therapy sessions as well as medication.

This was a new beginning for Monira, who had neither been exposed to positive attitudes about seeking help, nor mental health resources in Bangladesh.  Monira says that, “It’s about time we break the social stigma inherited from the Bengali culture that views exposing oneself to a therapist as a negative thing.”

Eventually, Monira was diagnosed with severe depression, but with the clinic’s rapid follow up, mentoring, and support, she is making steady progress with bi-weekly one-on-one therapy sessions and medication. She adds, “After addressing my mental health issues with Better Work Jordan’s clinic and months of commitment to my mental health program, my relationship with my supervisor has become great, and I am promised bigger responsibilities at the factory.”

Monira expressed her admiration for the clinic’s team, emphasizing that they made her experience easy, welcoming, and less daunting than she had anticipated. She further appreciated the responsive nature, exceptional care, and professionalism exhibited by the front-line staff. Monira felt empowered by the knowledge that she could turn to the clinic and a psychiatrist whenever needed. She mentioned how they attentively listened to her, and even conducted virtual follow-up sessions via video calls.  

As part of Better Work Jordan, the Mental Health Project was launched with the ultimate objective of improving the mental health of garment workers, particularly women, who form the majority of the labor force in this sector and face many physical and psychological stressors. The project focuses on building garment workers’ resilience against mental health risks, while ensuring that factory-level support exists, and mental health referral systems are accessible to all workers. Doctors at the factory level introduce workers to Better Work Jordan’s mental health clinic when they sense an individual’s difficulty functioning in daily life.

The Dulail-based clinic was established near the end of 2022 with a primary objective to address specific mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, and grief symptoms, in a specialized manner. The skilled professionals at the clinic use their expertise to create a personalized treatment plan for each worker to ensure they receive the most effective and appropriate care.

Better Work Jordan’s Mental Health clinic focal point Sumana Akhter says, “We see that the lack of effective structures and support at work, especially for those living with mental health conditions, can affect a person’s ability to enjoy their work and do their job well; it can undermine people’s attendance and even stop people from seeking a job in the first place.”

Better Work Jordan’s Mental Health Project recognizes the importance of safe and healthy working environments as a fundamental right. By promoting mental health awareness and reducing stigma, the project aims to encourage workers to seek help when they need it. This support enables them to manage their mental health challenges more effectively and improve their work performance.

“For all the people out there, who are scared to navigate their way toward mental health: Mental health is as important as your physical health,” Monira emphasizes. “If you feel you need someone to talk to, just do, it is a matter of facing your fears. Don’t let social stigma and pressure limit you from looking after your mental well-being.”

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