How To Handle Mental Health Issues In The Workplace

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While mental health problems affect many employees both at home and at work, the unfortunate reality is that due to various stigmas associated with mental health issues, they are not acknowledged and dealt with appropriately in the working environment.


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Mental health issues affect many many people, both in and outside of the workplace. This can often prevent employees from performing their best, meeting deadlines and even effectively interacting with their colleagues. This is why businesses need to develop strategies to appropriately deal with mental health issues in the workplace. 

This is according to Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions, who notes that staff are left to bear the burden of mental health problems alone, which not only has an impact on their productivity, but also the culture and connectedness of the team which they operate in.

Mental disorders account for 15% of the global burden of disease, and one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. This is why mental wellness is certainly an issue that needs to be prioritised within the workplace. 

As a result of this, absenteeism costs the economy around R12-16 billion per annum. This simply highlights the importance of implementing measures to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental disorders.

Signs of underlying mental health issues in the workplace:

  • An increase in absenteeism: It is very rare for staff to call in sick to work and openly use depression or anxiety as a reason.
  • Conflict among employees: Ongoing conflict, grievances and complaints may be a sign of poor mental wellbeing in the workplace.
  • Low company morale: Employees with mental health issues may appear unmotivated and withdrawn. They may not be performing as well as they used to. 
  • Decrease in productivity: Employees may not be meeting deadlines or finishing all their work for the day.
  • High staff turnover: This could be a direct result of a negative organisational culture, uncompetitive pay and benefits, unrealistic job expectations, or poor mental wellbeing.

“When it comes to addressing mental health issues in the workplace, a good starting point would be eradicating any potential stigmas and opening the lines of communication."

“As an employer, you need to remain cognisant of the fact that most employees shy away from reporting mental health mental illness for fear of being judged as weak or incompetent.”

According to Vittee, some of the basics organisations should keep top of mind when dealing with mental wellbeing in the workplace, include:

  • Improving awareness around the issue in a way that does not perpetuate the stigma, while education the organisation as a whole about the importance of diagnosing and treating mental health problems.
  • Open the lines of communication between the leadership team and the workforce to establish whether relationships and workloads could potentially be causing mental distress.
  • Distributing an internal survey to assess the staff's understanding of mental health and the current state of mental health in the organisation.
  • Introducing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) in the organisation to offer wellbeing related benefits such as counselling, debt management, legal advice and support on emotional and work-life issues.

“Ultimately organisations need to recognise that, just like physical health, everyone goes through fluctuating levels of mental wellbeing,” concludes Vittee.

By implementing some of these tips, businesses may be able to easily identify any possible mental health issues in the workplace and effectively deal with them.

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Over 30% of adult South Africans suffer from mental health issue, affecting their ability to think and process their thoughts logically. This affects their outward behaviours and decision making in the workplace. Mariet Visser, coach, trainer, co-founder of We Do Change - shares her knowledge supporting anyone suffering from mental health issues.


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