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The importance of mental health in the workplace

Posted in Medshield Wellness   |   October 28th, 2019

Mental health is as important as physical health, but not enough emphasis is placed on it in many work environments – despite it being a key factor that contributes to work deterioration. What can be done to ensure that this does not continue?

According to an article by general-interest family magazine Reader’s Digest, a survey of 1 000 non-executive employees in the United Kingdom found that the illnesses employees were most likely to lie to their bosses about are mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and stress. The bulk of respondents rather gave “prefabricated excuses” for not being at work, the survey citing as reasons for this a fear of being judged, concerns about not being believed, and worrying about managers’ reactions..

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group reports that at least one-third of South Africans suffer from mental illnesses. Worldwide, the World Health Organisation estimates that 264-million people suffer from depression, resulting in a $1-trillion (approximately R14-trillion) loss of productivity each year (this excludes other mental illnesses such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia).

Clearly, mental illness is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. Yet there is often a shroud of secrecy around it, contributing to work spaces that negatively affect employees’ mental health. Other factors that affect it include:

  • Poor management practices and communication with employees
  • Employees feeling they have little control over their work
  • Arduous working hours
  • A general toxic behaviour in the workplace

Although it’s not hard to identify these contributing factors, addressing them can be difficult and requires strong collaboration between staff and management. Business magazine Inc. offers a number of suggestions for creating a mentally healthy workplace, including:

  • Offering free screening tools for mental illness
  • Discussing mental health and mental illnesses openly instead of shrouding them in secrecy
  • Providing self-care and stress management training

In order to promote better mental health practices in the workplace, the World Health Organisation suggests:

  • Implementing mental healthcare policies in the workplace and enforcing them
  • Providing and informing staff about available healthcare resources for those who struggle with mental health
  • Involving employees in decision-making that strengthens feelings of being in control of their work

This was echoed by leading health and performance facilitator Richard Sutton during a public lecture at Wits Business School in June 2019 on the organisational burden of stress. Some ideas from him include:

  • Programmes for career development of employees in order to make them feel more in control of their careers
  • Recognising and rewarding the contribution of employees, as a lack of recognition can affect mental health

The first steps in promoting good mental health in the workplace are recognising that it requires as much, if not more, recognition as physical health, and working to destigmatise it. Open and honest discussions are a good start.


DISCLAIMER: The information on this blog post is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.

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