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Business has a role in supporting mental health

Many people spend the major part of their lives and their time at work. Having a fulfilling job, a good manager and a positive work environment is therefore important for their mental health and general wellbeing.

There are times when people feel down, stressed or frightened, tired, make uncharacteristic mistakes, feel demotivated, manage their time poorly or are short tempered, and avoid colleagues – sometimes this passes. However, these responses can develop into a mental health problem that can impact daily life. Sometimes a mental health problem develops into something more complex that may require support and treatment for life. Sadly over 6000 people a year, with long term mental health problems, die by suicide in the United Kingdom. In South Africa 8000 people die by suicide per year. Depression is one of the major causes of suicide.

Some everyday stressors can affect mental health – e.g.: work related deadlines, work/business travel, health, relationships, personal circumstances, and could cause thoughts of suicide. These issues can affect anybody, and nobody is exempt.

But good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand. Positive mental health could result in a happy and productive workforce and could increase productivity by as much as 12% (Mental Health Foundation, UK).

Managers play a major role when it comes to managing the mental health and wellbeing of employees. Yet many managers are not equipped to deal effectively with employee mental health in addition to delivering on their many daily responsibilities. It has been said that half of the managers in South Africa don’t even know how many sick days are due to employees having depression. Admittedly, our laws don’t require employees to disclose this information to their managers.

Types of mental disorders

Many types of mental disorders exist, i.e. antisocial personality disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia, bipolar, disorder, etc. but the most prevalent are depression and anxiety, which has a major impact on employee performance in the workplace, e.g.

· Affects relationships

· Work performance

· Capability

· Leave days

· Performance on promotion

A very important point for business to take cognisance of is that 19% of affected employees fear reporting depression because of the STIGMA attached to this condition. Companies must start dealing with the stigma around mental health at work.

Another important point to note is the impact of depression at work. According to the World Health Organisation, poor mental health globally costs the economy a loss of R1 trillion in lost productivity annually. Therefore, mental health is a major business issue.

The case for business to take mental health seriously

Those companies who look after employee mental health save more and enjoy an increase in productivity have been documented. For example a study in Japan found that the implementation of workplace measures decreased stress and improved employee performance.

A training programme for managers in the United Kingdom at Heathrow entitled, “Your mind matters”, covered topics such as:

· Creating a positive psychological environment

· How to catch someone before they fall

· Helping them to return to work

Studies by Deloitte Insights into mental health concluded that if it is “Good for our People, it is Good for Business”.

Mental health is important for business sustainability as there is a need to build workplaces where everyone can thrive, because a toxic work environment can be corrosive for mental health.

Mental health post-Covid

Although Covid has made mental health a priority, many companies have been implementing interventions over the years. There has been a staggering increase in covid linked depression and anxiety and studies have shown this across the globe.

Realising that most people have some levels of anxiety, loneliness and isolation and fear of job losses is important. The nature of work is changing and it is critical for employers to review their approach to mental health and to recognise that what started off as a sprint has turned into a long and painful marathon, bringing with it new challenges along the way.

This article is part one of two articles. Look out for the second part in the next edition of Business Sense.

Mental health issues is a specific interest of Jacquie Bhana and she is available for both one on one sessions in assisting with mental health issues in the workplace as well as offers information sessions.

For more information

C: +27 83 386 8343

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