Study: Filipino domestic workers under stress have poorer mental health

Published by rudy Date posted on November 19, 2013

As Macau continues to develop economically, more and more local residents are reluctant to perform what researchers in the area of migration call “3D” jobs: dangerous, dirty and degrading jobs, hence the need to import workers.

According to the Human Resources Office of Macau, as of September 2013, the Philippines ranks second behind mainland China as the largest source of non-resident workers.

A total of 17,924 Filipinos are employed in Macau where more than half (50.35%) are employed under the category of domestic work.

Recently, Norman B. Mendoza presented his research regarding Filipino female domestic workers (FDWs) in Macau as a requirement for his Master’s degree in Counseling and Psychotherapy at the University of Saint Joseph, written under the supervision of Prof. Imelu G. Mordeno.

In his study where he surveyed 232 Filipino FDWs, Mendoza wanted to know whether social networks from family and friends (i.e. the quantity and quality of relationships that an individual has with others) might alleviate mental health problems of Filipino FDWs caused by the post-migration living difficulties.

Like previous research, the master’s student’s initial findings showed that the difficulties a domestic worker experiences affect her mental health. This finding is not new and it can be explained for obvious reasons such as stressors leading to increased levels of anxiety, depression, trauma and bodily symptoms that have no physical cause. However, the main results of the research are stimulating and unforeseen.

While family based social networks did not show any effect, friend-based social networks certainly did on how their difficulties influenced the mental health of domestic workers. However, there was a surprising discovery. Instead of friendship networks acting as a buffer, domestic workers who have more friends are more likely to have poorer mental health if they had post-migration difficulties. Previous studies have shown similar findings where they delineated two main characteristics of those who experience the contradictory effects of social networks: women in general and women who have low economic resources. Both of these characteristics are descriptive of Filipino FDWs.

Women are more likely to make friends with other women and neighbors, therefore, domestic workers are more likely to befriend their fellow domestic workers. Filipino culture emphasizes strong social ties. So it seems that friendship networks may lead to role strain and possible “over-immersion” in the burdensome experiences shared by some of their friends who are also domestic workers.

Asked whether the findings would lead a counselor to advise domestic workers to not engage with many friends, Mendoza says it is important that domestic workers evaluate their own social relationships, and undeniably, having friends to be there for companionship and support is beneficial and may improve one’s well-being.

However, Mendoza’s findings go to emphasize that Filipino FDWs should pay closer attention to their social networks especially if their network causes strain from demands due their role as a friend, as it may be paradoxically counter-productive for their mental health. –

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