Since 2002, the Jardine Matheson Group has taken on the task of breaking taboos surrounding mental illness in Hong Kong. "Mental health is an area which is clearly underfunded. By focusing on one area we can make a real difference," says Neil McNamara, governor and steering committee member of Mindset, the charitable foundation established by Jardines to raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues.
All the major Jardines' companies participate in Mindset. In addition to allocating an annual budget to it, they also donate through special events. Jardine Ambassadors - young executives selected to support the work of Mindset - raise funds through activities such as the Walk Up Jardine House. This year's event, which took place last month involving more than 500 employees walking up 49 floors of Jardine House, raised HK$2.6 million.
McNamara says stigma from the community and self-stigma pose a major difficulty in tackling mental health issues, adding that Mindset adopts a long-term approach that stresses participation. "It's not the money that matters. It's the time and the effort."
The flagship Health in Mind programme, launched in 2002, with professional support from the Hospital Authority (HA), aims to cultivate a positive attitude towards mental illness among the youth. It helps them understand how to cope with pressures and empowers students as advocates to promote mental health to their peers, families and the public.
A major event of the programme involves Jardine Ambassadors, student advocates and people with mental illness spending a day together completing assigned tasks. "The client gets the opportunity to get out and regain some of the confidence," McNamara says. "The children get to meet someone who has suffered from mental illness and learn they are not what they appear on TV and movies."
In the 2008/2009 school year, more than 215 student advocates were recruited from 14 secondary schools. In excess of 60 in-school activities, volunteer services and workshops were conducted, benefiting more than 16,800 students, parents, teachers and people suffering or recovering from mental illness. Jardines' companies also conduct workshops for rehabilitated individuals to learn basic skills such as how to use computers, and offer short-term job training positions.
"These opportunities bring people into the workplace to train them in basic skills and learn to interact with people," McNamara says. "The idea is that they will be more comfortable getting work outside in the community."
Mindset has funded the establishment of a not-for-profit home for chronic mentally-ill patients. The home is under renovation.
McNamara says they bought a building and rented it to the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association at a level which enables them to be self-financing. "We want to give [the chronic mentally ill] a pleasant place to live," he says.