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Jacquie Bhana - “There Is No Wealth or Health Without Mental Health”

Mental Health in the workplace

When we talk about mental health, what does this actually mean? Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act, and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Did you know that by 2030, 80% of the workforce will be suffering with depression. Mental health is predicted to be the new fourth bottom line.

What’s happening in business in this space?

While many workers admit that they struggle with their mental health, disclosing mental health disorders to employers is still an issue. Only 25% of managers feel that they had good support in dealing with employee depression. More than one in ten people don’t know how to react or what to say to someone with depression. Of the 80% of employees who have taken time off work because of depression, 32% did not tell their employers the reason was depression.

This is not shocking, as most managers don’t feel comfortable talking to their employees about mental health due to the lack of resources and guidance on how to respond. This often leaves employees feeling unsupported and unheard which can exacerbate their mental health challenges.

There needs to be a shift in culture around creating safe spaces for dialogue about mental health in the workplace. We need to develop tools and guidance for training and coaching managers through challenging conversations by giving them skills and confidence necessary for cultivating cultures of psychological safety and managing mental wellness. Whilst managers are expected to take responsibility for employee wellbeing, not enough is being done to equip them to deal with this new challenge – on top of all the changing business requirements in a world order that is being rocked by disruptors.

Some companies have outsourced mental health service to experts to assist. However, the average use of Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) Services is as follows:

  • 46% – No not accessed

  • 21% – Yes accessed

  • 33% – I don’t know about my company’s EAP

While it is commendable that some action is being taken, recognising that this problem cannot be resolved by delegating it to an outsourced provider is only is not enough. A quiet disengagement from a once active employee cannot go undetected and should be acted upon. There are visible signs of mental health challenges, and even though people try and mask their circumstances, there is a need to listen or tune in carefully for signals:

  • Hear what they say – they could be telling you something; many people are suffering in silence. Loneliness is one of the biggest problems being experienced. Even amid crowded spaces, people can experience severe loneliness.

  • Be aware of the false reassurance of the smile – it could be shrouded in silent struggles.

  • Appearance is less helpful as a diagnostic tool than we have been led to believe.

  • By the time mental health is outwardly obvious it is probably very bad.

Some Issues and Solutions

In dealing with this new conundrum, there is a role for both the employer and the employee. Companies need strategies and guidelines to assist both parties.

Certain workplace factors negatively affect mental health. There are some frightening statistics below:

  • In South Africa one in four employees suffer from depression

  • 30% of UK workers have been diagnosed with mental health conditions at some point, and over 6000 people with long term mental health problems die by suicide. In South Africa this number is about 8000.

  • 80% of employees will come to work despite depression

  • Presenteeism costs South Africa millions per year

  • 75% refuse to get treatment

  • 46% fear discrimination, fear and shame

  • 25% don’t disclose because there is no support or guidance

Businesses must do something beyond the obvious to deal with this problem. Work that is stressful, overwhelming, boring or for which employees are overskilled or underskilled work, amongst other issues can contribute to mental health. There needs to be an increased investment in employee mental health through training managers, human resources and clinic staff. Managers need training to listen, show empathy, on how to talk about this problem and more importantly how to take the next step and deal with the problem.

A deeper connection and regular check-ins with employees through one-on-one conversations between the manager and colleagues is required. Encouraging people to talk sounds obvious, but if ignored, chronic mental health may be the result. Supporting short term problems to reduce long term effects is better.

Educating, supporting and encouraging employees creates awareness of issues of discrimination, stigmatisation, and harassment, and encourages openness in these topics. Appropriate policies may be developed where necessary.

New ideas and thoughts are coming to the fore, e.g., LGBTQI – a community that must not be forgotten as we deal with the subject of mental health. Almost half of the trans people have thought about taking their lives and they often experience discrimination by healthcare staff.

Creative solutions through robust workplace engagement and participation must be developed. Here are some examples of new jobs being contemplated for the future:

  • Wellbeing directors

  • Sleep coaches

  • Chief of happiness

  • Wellbeing data analysts

  • Smile specialists

  • Virtual and remote wellbeing professionals

  • Wellbeing tech experts

  • Resilience specialists

What Can Employees Do?

  • Participate actively in company programmes and contribute to improving programmes

  • Keep active – participate in exercise programmes, and eat well – make it a social event, away from your desk; join a lunch club; share meals.

  • Drink sensibly – disorders such as alcoholism and eating disorders need to be checked.

  • Keep in touch – work in supportive teams, with a mentor or trusted group of colleagues

  • Ask for help

  • Take a break – allow employees to be on break

  • Sleep adequately

  • Do something you’re good at – hobby such as gardening, crosswords, Netflix, cycling, book club, crafts, etc.

  • Accept who you are – self acceptance and self-care are vital, as is mindfulness, meditation and spiritual fulfilment.

  • Care for others – supporting someone if they’re off work and when they return to work.

  • Stay connected and continue to strengthen your relationships

Organisations are not only inanimate buildings and machinery, but organisations are made up of people like you and me. We are part of the organisation. We represent them. And we all have a role to play – we could be helping our colleagues without trying too hard. We see them every day. Let’s make more of an effort to really see them, hear them and act on new and innovative solutions.

Jacquie has been working with people in business that experience mental health problems through her coaching and mentoring programme. She has done presentations at conferences and has found that there is a strong need for business to engage more robustly on this topic. There are emerging rich and vibrant discussions in this area, especially after Covid and with younger employees. She can be contacted to assist organisations with their managers and employees if there is an identified need.

Jacquie Bhana Consulting is a level one BBBEE company.

For more information

C: +27 83 386 8343

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