Let Me TELL You About Mental Health Care in Japan
I first heard about TELL just over four years ago when I participated in a post-tsunami panel discussion with Dr. Linda Semlitz, then TELL’s Clinical Director. [I also learned about Second Harvest Japan that day, listening to Charles McJilton’s presentation in the same discussion, and have been a strong supporter ever since.] Although in 2011 I had lived in Japan nine years, I hadn’t heard of TELL (thankfully I hadn’t had a need), and that’s a continuing challenge for the organization, which is Japan’s leading mental health services provider for the international community, and has operated an English-language Lifeline since 1973.
This May, I moved from TELL's board of directors into the Executive Director role, and after looking more closely at what we had been doing (and not doing) in recent years, I realized we needed to do a much better job of communicating to our audiences – to the community, to potential volunteer telephone counselors, and to potential donors and partners. [Like the physician who tries to fit every patient problem into his or her area of specialty, I’ve been a communications consultant for over 25 years in Asia-Pacific, so to me everything looks like a communications problem!]
The challenge is that the international community is constantly turning over, and as people who know about TELL return home, or move on to another overseas posting, they take with them their knowledge about TELL, about the Lifeline, about our comprehensive children and families programs, and about the confidential face-to-face counseling we provide. And because mental health issues are not always easy to talk about, the replacements of the people who leave often have to discover TELL on their own. If I move to Tokyo to replace you as regional marketing manager, chances are that during our 3-4 weeks of overlap, I won’t mention to you that my son is autistic, or that my spouse is suffering from postpartum depression. Or whatever.
So here’s the other thing I have found in the six months I have been serving as TELL’s Executive Director: most international companies, even though they have global EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) providers, do a poor job of offering mental health care to international employees (and here I am including English-speaking Japanese, who comprise 60% of callers to our English-language Lifeline) and their families. EAP in Japan is understandably focused on the 95% of the market that speaks Japanese, and for the most part expats are left to their own devices. This is especially an issue for trailing spouses and children, who come to Japan and are not offered a desk and a salary and 50-80 hours a week of work and travel, and very likely have to figure out how to deal with problems that arise to home without speaking and reading Japanese (which as you may have noticed, is the sine qua non of communication in this country, despite rumors that the Olympics are coming to town).
And so, I am grateful for the opportunity to write to ANZCCJ members about TELL and the services we offer. Our prices start at free, for the Lifeline, and for many of our outreach programs that reach schools and other organizations (thanks to companies and individuals that provide support for these programs because they feel they are important for the community).
If we can help you in any way, get in touch. If you think you may be interested in volunteering to serve the community as a Lifeline phone counselor, or in some other way, please get in touch. If you think we can help your organization, write me an email and let me know.
Finally, if you simply want to help by spreading the word about the mental health services that are available to the international community in Japan, like our Facebook page and share our posts. Tell your friends and colleagues. We’re here to listen.
Roberto De Vido
Roberto De Vido is Executive Director of TELL. For more information about TELL, please visit their website, or write to Roberto at firstname.lastname@example.org