The entrepreneur initially presented the idea at United Nations’ Global Impact Challenge in Washington DC. After making it to the final round, Naval officially founded Empath in 2020.
While the pandemic made us prioritize our physical health, it also put the wellness of our minds at the forefront. In September 2020, six months after COVID hit, the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a significant increase in calls on its suicide prevention hotline.
From an average of 80 calls pre-lockdown, it rose to nearly 400 from Filipinos suffering from depression. Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, Philippine’s WHO representative, pointed out that people losing jobs, being separated from loved ones, and the fear of contracting COVID heightened mental health issues.
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According to WHO, at least 3.6 million Filipinos suffered from “mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorder” in 2020.
“With compassion and understanding for others, we can recognize the signs and educate ourselves [on] how to access help,” Abeyasinghe said. “We all have a critical role in preventing suicide by socially connecting with affected people and connecting people to mental health services or medical care.”
Accessible mental healthcare
However, although you may be aware help is out there, from loved ones and professionals, it might be overwhelming to seek it—especially when you’re already feeling anxious, lost, and overwhelmed.
Steph Naval’s social enterprise Empath can help with an approachable way to tackle mental issues. Empath advocates for inclusive access to mental healthcare by connecting people to professionals.
“Empath was an idea I had due to my personal mental health struggles and difficulties with the mental healthcare system in the Philippines,” the Ateneo de Manila University graduate shares.
Adults and minors can book sessions with licensed psychologists and psychiatrists through online consultations.
“Yes, it was taboo in recent years,” Naval continues. “But the combination of the pandemic and the awareness brought by the younger generations have accelerated, the wider acceptance for this rising issue.”
According to an article from Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, an international research journal, many Filipinos face a “concern on loss of face or sense of shame” when help-seeking. In effect, they tend to conceal their troubles, leading to heightened mental issues in the long run.
Breaking the stigma
Naval relates to this, “growing up in the Philippine culture definitely affected my mental health when I was younger. Mental health was such a taboo topic and a difficult discussion to understand here in the Philippines; hence, it made the healing process more difficult.”
There’s now a rise in “further acceptance and understanding” of mental health issues with her observations.
“These platforms came about with the understanding that mental health is not one dimensional but is impacted by several other aspects in a person’s life,” Naval explains. “Hence, the team and I hope to create and continuously build a holistic system of helping our clients and their well-being.”
Although she admits the multi-platform services and content were overwhelming to create, feedback from the public proved that it’s worthwhile.
Naval founded Empath when she was only 23 years old. After presenting the idea in United Nations’ Global Impact Challenge, it made the finalist round.
“[Empath was] eventually presented in Washington D.C. After the competition, it was something that I still passionately wanted to pursue, so I had it officially incorporated in August 2020,” Naval shares. “Prior to the incorporation, I made sure to consult several mental health professionals on the idea and experienced many pivots with the services and business model along the way.”
Although getting professional help is always something to consider, the legal management graduate shares that self-care doesn’t have to be costly or time-consuming.
Her top five practices that you can do in under ten minutes are hugging a family member, brewing a cup of tea or coffee, stretching, a warm shower, and square breathing exercises—a yoga technique.
I try to incorporate a mental health practice [daily],” the founder shares. “Because just like you need to nourish your body daily, you need to nourish your mind every day as well.”
Images courtesy of Steph Naval.