Although the general perception of mental illness has improved over the past decades, studies show that stigma against mental illness is still powerful, largely due to media stereotypes and lack of education, and that people tend to attach negative stigmas to mental health conditions at a far higher rate than to other diseases and disabilities, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
October has been declared Mental Health Awareness Month with the objective of not only educating the public about mental health, but also to reduce the stigma and discrimination that people with mental illness are often subjected to.
Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and job stress are common, affecting individuals, their families and co-workers, and the broader community. In addition, they have a direct impact on workplaces through increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and increased costs.
The prevalence of mental health problems has increased significantly with the advent of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown. The isolation brought about by lockdown and remote working arrangements, the inability to socialise as usual. 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 illnesses, 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 exacerbate an existing problem, or may contribute to the development of a mental health problem.
Other problems may be as a result of the patient’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. 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 the provision of the necessary support to employees, it is vital for individuals to take proactive action in regard to their mental health and overall health by:
Colleagues may also help through:
As we gradually recover from the effects of COVID-19 let us strive to be aware of challenges that we and our colleagues are going through, reach out, speak up and request support when we need it and also support those around us who may be in need of such.
“What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?” – George Elliot
“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” – Steve Maraboli