Domestic workers suffer intolerable mental health issues

Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse Mental Wellness

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Housemaids are an integral part of many households in many communities. Housemaids are often critical in house cleaning, child care, food preparation and service as well as care of the ill and the elderly. Being a maid is a common way for women to earn an income and support themselves and their families, however there are many stressors that housemaids face that can affect their mental health and well-being.

Housemaids are five times more likely to struggle with a common mental health problem compared to women in the general population and they sadly may have limited access to appropriate mental health support.

Factors that can affect the mental health of housemaids

  1. Undefined, unpredictable working hours: maids often are the first to wake up in the household and the last to retire to bed. Work hours may be affected by the presence of visitors or the need to help with child care at night.
  2. Unclear expectations and undefined working contracts: housemaids are often employed informally, often with no written contracts and expectations of their employers may be unclear and may change. Maids who work for their relatives often struggle to define their role formally.
  3. Multi-tasking and juggling of many responsibilities: housemaids, many of them very young are often expected to run households, manage cleaning duties, child care, help with school work, cook and serve food, do laundry and ironing. This juggling can be difficult and overwhelming.
  4. Poor social support: most maids, particularly live away from their families and social support structures and they may be prone to loneliness and social isolation.
  5. Poor remuneration and financial stress: housekeeping particularly in sub-Saharan Africa is often poorly remunerated and housemaids often live way below the poverty datum line.
  6. Difficult working conditions: housemaids often deal with fussy, demanding employers, micromanaging and nit-picking.
  7. Limited time off: Many maids often work part of the weekend and may have to work during some holiday periods and may not get paid overtime.
  8. Harassment: Housemaids may sadly often face physical abuse and sexual harassment and may have limited knowledge on how to seek recourse.
  9. Difficulties settling disputes: Most maids work in situations where there is an imbalance of power between them and their employer and they may struggle to stand up for themselves if there is a disagreement and may struggle to get recourse when serious disputes arise. Younger age and lower levels of education can worsen these challenges.
  10. Lack of formal training: While maids are a vital part of the workforce, this sector of the working population is often informal and there is limited access to formal training that would help to formalise the work and protect maids. Lack of formal training and certification also means maids may have to rely on referrals of former employers when they want to get new jobs which can leave them vulnerable.

Common mental problems that housemaids can face

The multiple challenges that maids face can lead to high levels of stress. Maids often multi-task and juggle many responsibilities in addition to managing different personalities in the household where they work.

This can be stressful and overwhelming. Undefined working hours and limited time off can lead to burnout. Some housemaids may develop anxiety especially when working for difficult, fussy employers. The power dynamics involved in the maid-employer relationship and result in a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness and can result in depression.

How can we improve the mental health of housemaids?

Housemaids are a vital but often invisible part of our communities. Their mental health is critical to the functioning of many households. We can help to safeguard the mental health of maids through:

  1. Creating psychologically safe workspaces for housemaids free of bullying, intimidation and abuse.
  2. Creating and enforcing standards for working conditions for housemaids to limit maltreatment and abuse.
  3. Educating the public and increasing awareness on the factors that can affect the mental well-being of maids.
  4. Providing targeted psychosocial support for housemaids and housekeepers
  5. Encouraging formal training of housemaids to help formalise the profession and protect the well-being of maids.

If you think that you or a housemaid that you know may be struggling with a mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

l Dr. Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse is a Consultant Psychiatrist

 Whatsapp+263714987729 [email protected]

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