“I think it’s tragic,” Jordana begins, “how there is only one licensed psychiatrist for every 2 million people in the Philippines, especially when several ills of our society can be traced back to a person’s mental wellbeing.”
After spending a few years in the corporate world, Jordana discovered her passion in the intersections of psychology, business, and education.
There’s a little more sparkle on Jordana Valencia’s eyes nowadays as she speaks about being back in the country and looking at the road ahead. After receiving her M.B.A. from Harvard, Jordana took up Clinical Psychology in Columbia University, making her one of the very few Filipinos with two Ivy League degrees.
“I love education and psychology. It’s about helping people become better versions of themselves,” she says. “I taught entrepreneurship and psychology at MIT’s summer program for young entrepreneurs. I taught the hard business skills, but I also integrated psychology by teaching my students about self-awareness, knowing more about their personalities, how to choose their teammates, and how to solve problems within the team.”
In addition to her work in education, Jordana also writes about career issues and self-development. For example, she explains how job hopping can actually be good for you, despite how it is often frowned upon by employers.
Advancing Mental Health in the Philippines
Jordana hopes to one day apply what she learned from Harvard, Columbia, and the private sector to help improve the state of mental health in the Philippines
To say that the mental health infrastructure of the country is in dire shape would be an understatement. The on-the-ground reality is quite stark. A 2006 Department of Health study showed that 32% of respondents experienced mental health problems, with anxiety being number one. Meanwhile, a 2011 World Health Organization study revealed that 16% of Filipino teenagers aged 13 to 15 seriously contemplated suicide. There is only one licensed psychiatrist for every 2 million people in the Philippines.
And social media doesn’t help. For instance, Jordana argues that upward social comparisons inherent in Facebook exacerbates depression and feelings of unworthiness in teenagers, a situation their parents never had to face in a pre-Internet world.
“People confronting mental health problems such as depression and bipolar disorder have to deal not only with the physical and psychological effects, but also with social stigma,” Jordana says.
“Even those who recognize the problem and would like to talk about it still don’t have as much access to mental health professionals. There aren’t enough clinics and the few private care facilities are out of reach to the majority of the population,” Jordana adds.
Fortunately, the 6x budget increase for the Department of Health’s mental health program under Secretary Paulyn Ubial is a step in the right direction, and a Mental Health Act is being pushed in the Senate by Senator Risa Hontiveros.
Merging Business and Psychology
After graduating summa cum laude in Psychology from the University of the Philippines, she went for a job in a multinational company first and then joined an education start-up for a brief stint.
“I took up business because I see it as a way to reach more people. Business teaches you how to implement things at a scale - it teaches you how to build efficient and sustainable ways of reaching thousands of lives.” She continues, “Studying at Harvard really pushed me because I’m usually a very within-the-box kind of thinker - and I like having the answers to things. But business school is very different because there’s no one answer to strategic questions. So Harvard really pushed me to be more open to uncertainty.”
“The feeling I got in the corporate world was different from teaching. I remember the first time I taught a class - I really felt that this is what I had to do. It just clicks,” she says.
Jordana has been an all-around achiever but she emphasizes the need to dream big. “People don’t dream big for fear of not getting it; but one has to be very persistent.” To those interested in getting into an Ivy League school, it may be daunting at first but she advises, “Ask for help. I reached out to people. I talked to alumni. I asked them what they got out of it. I had to make sure it was the right decision. Most especially - I wanted to be sure that I would be a better person out of it.”
The most important thing, she says, is to keep learning and growing. “At the end of the day, you learn from the people you surround yourself with - and they learn from you too. You come back with a new perspective for as long as you just keep an open mind.”