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COMPANY OF GOOD

Jardine Matheson lends its heft to mental health cause

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Jardines organises outings and activities - such as cake-making (above) for mental health clients.

Singapore

JANA had been suffering from depression for about six years when she found a temporary job as an administrative assistant at Jardine Engineering (Singapore) - created as part of the group's efforts to support mental health.

Not only did the placement allow her to find a new focus in life, giving her less time to dwell on negative thoughts, she eventually did so well that she was converted to a permanent employee in the company.

"Through my job, I found a new direction in life," said the 33-year-old. "It afforded me the opportunity to strive for productivity in my work and to maintain good relationships with my colleagues."

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Jana (not her real name) is one of 87 people suffering from mental health disorders who have been placed on temporary jobs within the Jardine Matheson Group, since the behemoth started its philanthropic initiative Mindset Care Limited in Singapore in 2011.

This followed a similar thrust in the group's headquarters in Hong Kong, created over a decade ago.

In both cities, mental health is an area that is often under-served by both the community and the private sector, said Mindset Care programme manager Colyn Chua.

In Singapore, one in 10 people suffer from some form of mental illness such as clinical depression, alcohol abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder, according to a 2010 study.

The massive, diversified conglomerate therefore wanted to pool its resources to focus on this singular area of supporting mental health.

With 11 businesses including Dairy Farm Singapore and Jardine Cycle and Carriage, it isn't just financial heft that the group is able to extend to support the cause, but also its staff strength of 440,000, as well as the business network of the group - especially important because a key part of the effort involves raising awareness of mental health disorders.

"With our collective effort, people, resources across 11 group companies in Singapore, we hope to encourage more involvement from the private sector, to join us in advocating for mental health," said Mindset chairman Alex Newbigging, also group managing director of Jardine Cycle and Carriage Limited.

"Through our business networks and operations, we also seek to provide direct and tangible assistance, and contribute towards the larger mental health support system."

In Singapore, the group helps to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues through events and campaigns.

It holds mini-Mindset Day every quarter for Jardine employees and clients of mental health organisations to interact through different activities, and also Fun Days for these clients to interact with the public as well as to give their caregivers a break.

Jardines also hopes to promote social and community acceptance of people with mental illness by sourcing for relevant job openings lasting three to six months within its 11 businesses.

It supports organisations such as Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) in their social enterprise efforts, providing retail space for free in places such as CityLink Mall, a Hongkong Land property, or helping to sell their products through its 7-Eleven convenience stores.

It also raises funds for the cause through public events such as its annual Mindset Challenge, a vertical race up the 33-floor Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower One, another property it owns.

The heavy-lifting for these events is carried out by 20-25 employee volunteers from across the Jardines group, known as Jardine Ambassadors, who serve a two-year stint.

These staff run and organise all Mindset activities, reach out to voluntary welfare organisations, and for job placements, coordinate with the group's human resource and line manager - on top of their regular day jobs.

Asked what accomplishments he is most proud of for Mindset in its six years of work, Mr Newbigging noted that the group has contributed S$3.4 million and organised over 80 activities relating to mental health programmes and projects to date.

Still, reducing social stigma and building social acceptance for people suffering from mental illness is a long process, Mr Newbigging acknowledged.

For Jana, who sank into depression as she had difficulty making friends in university, being able to build strong relationships with her colleagues made her feel less lonely.

She said the trust and support provided by her mentor - who was gentle with her even when she made mistakes - further boosted her confidence and courage.

  • This article is part of a series of stories covering companies contributing towards under-served causes. The Business Times supports NVPC's Company of Good programme as media partner. Visit www.companyofgood.sg (http://www.companyofgood.sg) for more information.
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