Building a home of storytellers through PLDT and Smart’s mental health initiative

A 16-year-old incoming senior high school, a mental health survivor, an online ESL teacher and a K-pop fan. They are the four winners of PLDT and Smart’s Better Today Time Capsule Project, a mental health initiative that focuses on art as a form of catharsis. 

The winners received a ‘meaningful connections boost’, which is a connectivity package from Smart worth P25,000. Each winner also had an opportunity to give a ‘community changemaking boost’, which is a matching donation for their favorite mental health charity or advocacy group. 

“In PLDT and Smart, through our Time Capsule Project, we hope to inspire a generation of changemakers and advocates. We want to give every Filipino Youth a chance to tell their story. This is the legacy that we are building: a home of storytellers who find their voice and speak their own truth— in every way possible and in all forms. All these serve as a valid reflection of our time today,” said PLDT and Smart FVP and Group Corporate Communications Head Cathy Yap-Yang. 

Healing takes time 

25-year-old AMarie V is a writer and a big K-pop fan. While she was scrolling through her Facebook news feed, she chanced upon the Time Capsule Project and decided to enter the competition. Her entry called, ‘The Moon Princess’ is a short story about hope where the main character endures hard times and is reminded of her strength. 

“Like the moon princess, everyone radiates their own light – their passion, dreams, hope, faith, and love. But because of the challenges we encounter, sometimes, it’s hard to be okay all the time,” AMarie V said. “Like the moon princess, we will experience this kind of season. But, we will always have those people who will remind us to stand up and live happily again. We just need to embrace this phase and keep on trying and not give up,”

According to AMarie V, the Time Capsule Project enabled her to be honest with her feelings. “Once we acknowledge our weaknesses and that we need help, healing starts. So, through this Time Capsule journey, I was able to free myself. And it feels good,” AMarie V said. 

She chose the Light of Jesus Pastoral Care Center as the recipient of her community changemaking boost. It is a ministry who provides free sessions for emotionally and spiritually wounded.

Appreciating the simple things

16-year-old Gabrielle is an incoming senior high school whose dream is to become a graphic designer. Her visual art, which is a short comic strip, about her furry little friend Splatt won her a place in the Time Capsule Project. 

“My dog keeps my family and I happy every day. When I think about how our lives were before having him, I can easily see that he has brought joy into our family,” Gabrielle said.

According to Gabrielle, the Time Capsule Project encouraged her to hone her skills as she created her art. She ended up expressing her feelings through the comic. For her, making the art felt therapeutic. 

Gabrielle gave a community changemaking boost to the Anxiety and Depression Support Philippines, which is a support group community and a mental health initiative run by volunteers. 

Embracing grief, moving forward

Carlos Ilustrado shares her personal story on hope and resilience. She embraced what she was feeling the past year after losing her father. She wanted to tell her story as a way to reach out to other people who may share the same experience. She wanted to remind them that they’re not alone.

“I’m often lost but I was truly lost when my father died – having him taken away is like losing a limb. I was angry, but I wasn’t alone. I have my family and I still have myself. I want to make my father proud, even if he’s not here anymore,” Carlos Ilustrado said. 

For Carlos Ilustrado, writing is her way of expressing her feelings and emotions. “It’s a choice to move forward. We’re not meant to be in one place. Life goes on and it’s best to hold on to memories so we can move forward,” Carlos Ilustrado said. 

Carlos Ilustrado chose to share the community changemaking boost to the Boxless Society, which is a growing community and support group for artists who are diagnosed with mental health conditions. 

Championing mental health

Zcyra Mae is currently studying dentistry at the University of the East. She is a mental health survivor and advocate. She found out about the Time Capsule Project through the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, Inc. “I decided to join because I wanted people to know that even in the darkest times, storms will pass and the sun will shine again,” Zcyra Mae said. 

Zcyra Mae’s poem called, ‘Dreams to Wake Up for’ is inspired by her dream of becoming an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. According to her, ever since she was a child, she dreamt of serving people and alleviating their pain. 

In 2017, Zcrya Mae’s mental health deteriorated, which she felt was her rock bottom. She had to file for a leave of absence and drop some of her classes. The Time Capsule journey helped Zcyra Mae to bravely share her story. “It created an opportunity for me to write a poem which is a big part of my soul. Writing made me feel at home in my safe haven. It became a form of catharsis ever since I discovered that I could release my repressed emotions through writing, I started using it as one of my healthy coping mechanisms,” Zcyra Mae said. Zcyra Mae donated her community changemaking boost to the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, Inc., which is one of the country’s largest mental health advocacy groups. 

champion mental health advocacy through creative expression

PLDT and its wireless unit, Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) have just launched Time Capsule Project, a virtual art festival on mental health and wellness under its Better Today program.

Through the virtual festival, the youth is encouraged to express themselves, by submitting entries in the form of drawings, paintings, poems or short stories. The top winners of Better Today’s Time Capsule Project will have the opportunity to receive from PLDT and Smart a matching donation, which they can then give to their chosen mental health organizations and advocacy groups.

The entries for the Time Capsule Project is anchored on four key mental health pillars and narrative namely, Passion and Purpose (which are things that inspire and keep us going); Resilience (things that push us to power through difficulties); Empathy (things that unite us and uplift the spirits of those in most need); and Hope (things that give light amid darkness).

As participants embark on self-reflection and create their own time capsules, they are also encouraged to dedicate matching art and thoughtful pieces for those in need within the larger community. These include the country’s health care workers who brave the frontlines and risk their lives every day in the performance of their duty to the country; vulnerable children who suffer abuse and are deprived of a happy childhood; and fellow Filipinos who struggle through lonely isolation and mental health issues due to the circumstances of the pandemic.

Better Today is PLDT and Smart’s collaborative platform for change making in the digital space. The program emphasizes the companies’ commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), particularly UN SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being. The downloadable link for the tool kit and mechanics can be found in Better Today’s social media platforms. To know more about the Time Capsule Project and the details on how to join the art festival, please follow Better Today PH at (@bettertodayph) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Advocating mental wellness and resilience in the workplace

Mental health, just like one’s physical health, is important. Both are personal journeys that require room for growth and understanding – the ability to fully embrace oneself.

During the first-ever virtual Public Relations (PR Congress) by the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP), a session featured Jane Fordham, who talked about the importance of mental health in the workplace.

Fordham, who founded her own consulting firm, underscored the importance of building an empathetic culture in the workplace, which starts by being kind to oneself. “We must not suffer alone. We are our own worst critics and it is important to be kind to ourselves. We must have room for acceptance and realism – the knowledge that we are living in unprecedented times,” Fordham said.

People’s lives have turned upside down because of the pandemic. According to Fordham, due that the global pandemic, people felt a certain amount of uncertainty, shock and anxiety because of the prolonged disruption. To Fordham, gaining control is important because it allows one to be able to create boundaries, build routines and find a lsense of normalcy amid the pandemic.

She also emphasized that similar to physical health, approaching one’s mental health requires a proactive mindset. “Just like exercising or training a muscle, our mental health needs to create a routine based on good habits, adopt lifestyle and working practices to optimize our well-being. These will make ourselves more resilient to challenges,” Fordham added.

Creating a safe space in the workplace

Fordham quoted Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson who described psychological safety as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”  This is key in building a workplace that is anchored on kindness, empathy and trust. Employees feel safe in their own place of work and they gain confidence in taking on interpersonal risks. This also helps a company to manage talent and optimize productivity.

This is the kind of culture that PLDT, the country’s largest integrated telco, and its wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, are promoting in the workplace. The companies have created programs to help employees strengthen their mental health and resilience, especially amid the pandemic.

The companies have launched the “Mind Your Health” campaign, a series of online talks that invite clinical experts and mental health advocates to talk about various mental health issues that range from dealing with mental illnesses and mental health advocacy campaigns.

PLDT and Smart also have online courses to help employees manage their mental well-being. Some of the online courses include topics on de-stressing, meditation and movement, stress management; workplace positivity; and resilience amid unexpected change.

To provide employees with access to mental health services, PLDT and Smart also partnered with professional counselors. Employees can book appointments online and seek treatment and counseling.