Although the general perception of mental illness has improved over the past decade, studies show that stigma against mental illness is still prevalent, largely due to media stereotypes and lack of awareness and education as people tend to attach negative stigmas to mental health conditions at a far higher rate than to other health conditions or diseases such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
Many workplaces have mental health awareness programmes with the objective of not only educating the staff about mental health, but also to reduce the stigma and discrimination that people with mental illness are often subjected to, as well as provide, a support mechanism for employees.
Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc. are common and they affect individuals, their families, co-workers and the broader community. They also have a direct impact on workplaces, evident through increased absenteeism and reduced productivity, which often result in increased costs.
The prevalence of mental health problems have increased significantly with the advent of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown. The isolation brought about by lockdown, remote working arrangements, the inability to socialise as usual, as well as the fear and uncertainty regarding one’s health and economic status, have had an adverse negative impact on large parts of the population on a global scale. This has either resulted in new mental health challenges or an aggravation of existing problems.
Mental illnesses are not always simple to treat, as they could be the result of an interplay between biological, environmental, social and psychological factors. The different causes and risk factors for mental illness, range from:
Apart from the above factors, research indicates that the content and context of work can play a role in the development of mental health problems in the workplace. Key factors include:
Whilst the workplace can contribute positively to a person’s mental health, it may also contribute to the development of a mental health problem or exacerbate an existing problem.
Other problems may be as a result of a person’s non-compliance with medication or a specific treatment regime, especially in the case of serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. This can have serious consequences. Treatment depends on the type of mental illness and the level of severity it is at, and the treatment options include therapy, medication, and in some cases, hospitalisation or even a combination of these.
Although employers may have programmes in place to ensure that mental health problems are recognised early, as well as provide the necessary support to employees, it is vital for individuals to take proactive action in regard to their overall mental and physical health:
Colleagues may also assist through:
Recent media events have highlighted the fact that many are facing challenges and situations which may not always be evident to us, therefore let us strive to be kind, be aware of challenges that we and our colleagues are exposed to, reach out, speak up and request support when we need it and also support those around us who may be in need of such.