Supporting better mental health for garment workers: John’s story

19 Jun 2022

I was working at a religious school in South India for five years and when I turned 30, I decided to change my career, drawing on my school experience helping people with their problems, guiding and giving them advice.

One of my friends, who worked at a factory registered with Better Work Jordan, suggested that I leave for Jordan to join him to work at a garment factory. I did, and I found a new opportunity. One of my goals was to support my family back home. My father could not work anymore, and my mother is a school teacher.

For one year now, I have worked at that factory as supervisor. My responsibilities include monitoring compliance with the Jordanian Labour Law, and reporting any problems, including harassment, to management. Three months into the job, I was appointed as a mental health focal point. This meant that, in addition to my duties, I served as a liaison between workers and a mental health professional, in collaboration with the Mental Health Project of the ILO/Better Work Jordan.

Response to suicide attempt

About two months ago, on what started as a typical workday, another supervisor at the factory came to me with a 20-year-old worker, after she tried to kill herself.  The young woman had cut the radial artery of her wrist. I was very concerned about her, both physically and emotionally, but fortunately the wound was superficial.

Because she is from Sri Lanka, I was unable to understand her. Another co-worker, who is also a mental health focal point, translated for me and assisted me in calming her down so that we could talk. The woman claimed that her grandma, who had recently died, had asked her to commit suicide. Of course, it was a very difficult situation. It was also my first time seeing such a case, so I contacted the medical clinic staff at the factory who had attended the Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) training with Better Work Jordan. The doctor assessed her case and recommended counselling sessions, which were provided by the Better Work mental health team lead.  She was closely monitored by the doctor, the dorm supervisor and myself before returning to work the next day – she was keen on resuming her routine and on not being left alone in the dormitory.

Factory workers face various psychological stressors, with some having hallucinations and complaining about seeing ghosts. I focus on helping workers who are experiencing psychological problems by referring them to doctors in our institution who attended the mhGAP training. Whenever a case related to mental health is suspected or reported through welfare officers, they will be given counselling through specialists.

Happy to help

Supporting workers is part of my duties, and I feel happy when I succeed in helping someone, and when I help save their lives. I strongly believe that it is only through timely intervention that these problems can be sorted out.

I took part in trainings organised in collaboration with Better Work Jordan, including a workshop on mental health policy preparation, and a psychological first aid course. My manager believed that I deserved to be a focal point because I enjoy good relations with my colleagues and co-workers.

These trainings were highly beneficial in broadening my knowledge of psychological support.  I have learned many practical techniques, such as monitoring the workplace, identifying mental health hazards and risks and take steps to eliminate them. I have learned how to facilitate safe and confidential referrals for the workers who need mental health and psychosocial support services. I’ve learned how to conduct a survey among workers to know their support needs and communicate survey results with management. As a result I have been able to raise awareness about mental health among workers, for example by handing workers printed materials with information about mental health, support services, and wellbeing activities.

What is changed?

The Mental Health Project and the referral system have improved the work environment at the factory, and increased worker awareness of the need for seeking support when necessary. I believe that people in need should talk about their problems with others, and have nothing to be ashamed of.

I always believed that all people should have their own space in society, and that all efforts should be taken to eliminate any sort of discrimination, including stigma against mental health issues.

I have become more positive, listening attentively to the concerns of colleagues and co-workers, and developing a better understanding of how they feel at work. And this Mental Health Program now acts as a catalyst to my beliefs, and is giving me exposure and the opportunity to do something which I believe in.

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