Take care – mental health struggles at work are real

20 August 2020,  Damian Viviers 612
The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and its resultant consequences, including the nationwide lockdown and the restriction on many economic activities have over the past few months altered many aspects of social and working life. This, together with the global recession, has caused increased stress and anxiety for many of us and has unsurprisingly had a negative effect on the mental health of a large number of people. 

Of course, operating any business in the midst of economic uncertainty is challenging and while many problems and challenges of this new environment are obvious, one aspect that is often overlooked and not afforded proper recognition is the role of mental health in the working environment – which may include working from home. 

The business sphere is ultimately made up of real people, which includes management, employees, clients and customers, suppliers and industry partners. When a large number of these persons experience psychological difficulties and struggle to perform their day-to-day tasks, it may take its toll on the business environment, and end up being potentially problematic.

Is mental health really such an important issue?

Mental health struggles are of the most critical social and occupational concerns worldwide and affect more human lives than any other disabling condition. Although prejudice and discrimination based on mental health is rife, mental health conditions themselves do not discriminate, and constitute a universal phenomenon affecting all countries, cultures and people of all ages and socio-economic status – as we too have seen here in South Africa these past few months

Because individuals struggling with their mental health are spread across society and workplaces both in South Africa and the rest of the world, it is unavoidable to have this raise valid concerns in the business environment. Particularly workplace stress is considered to be a prominent trigger for the onset of various mental disorders, especially depression – and even more so when external circumstances such as the current Covid-19 pandemic further affects our work and living conditions 

A recent survey among South Africans found that 96% of people aged between 18-65 were concerned about their health, finances or both of these. This increase in pressure, in addition to the sudden changes in working circumstances this year are contributing to the rising number of mental health issues experienced by employees. Studies conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic also indicate that mental health issues are significantly high in South Africa, with about 20% of South Africans experiencing a depressive disorder at least once in their lifetime, and there being approximately 23 known suicides in the country per day. Research also indicates that that a person with depression is unable to fulfil their roles at work for about 57 days of the year.

The South African courts have also confirmed in recent years that mental health issues, such as depression, are a legitimate problem and that persons suffering from these should receive legal protection where they work. It is now commonly recognised under the law that mental health carries the same importance as physical health when it comes to dealing with employees and that these persons are entitled to the same benefits on the basis of their mental health condition(s). 

It also important to recognise that the symptoms flowing from the suffering from mental health conditions may also result in a decrease in the employee’s productivity and efficiency. An increasing number of employees may have to take time off to recover and seek treatment. This in effect means that the more staff of a business who suffer from mental health issues, the more of them will be unable to work, either productively or at all, whether they are currently working from home or the office.

Mental health and your business

Given the current circumstances and accompanying increase in stress, anxiety and mental health problems, businesses may consider implementing a monitoring and support system for their employees in general. Many persons may not even realise that they are suffering from mental health issues – whether light or severe - or that such a mental health problem may be more serious than they think. Such a system may be aimed at supporting these employees and creating awareness, as well as advancing the health and productivity of staff. Where necessary businesses should consult with mental health care specialists and legal experts, in order to ensure that such a system operates effectively.

Over and above caring about employees and advancing the productivity and profitability of an organisation, business owners should be mindful of the fact that ignoring the mental health of employees may result in legal and financial consequences down the line.

It appears that mental health issues are becoming one of the most significant concerns in modern society, business environments and workplaces and should be afforded the necessary recognition and attention, in order to assist in curbing and managing the adverse consequences that may flow from these.

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