Kenya: Let Us Give Mental Health at the Workplace Its Deserved Attention

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(file photo).
26 November 2019
opinion

In recent times, we have often woken up to a shocking suicide too many, especially among the youth; homicides, people gruesomely killing their loved ones; devastating social media posts followed by suicides, and college students found dead in hostels.

Nevertheless, the cause of the mental disorders is not only attributed to difficult relationships, financial challenges or even death of a dear one.

Time and again, they emanate from work-related scenarios -- such as extremely high expectations, inflexible working hours or when one senses lack of support by management or colleagues.

In the modern-day work environment, workers spend more than a third of time at the workplace -- on average, at least 40 hours a week. That could, ultimately, lead to insurmountable stress.

Sadly, many people often go through serious bouts of depression at the workplace but, for fear of being seen as vulnerable, do not speak out.

VISIBILITY

More often than not, they are reluctant to admit that they have reached a crisis point and, therefore, would not bother to seek the professional services that they ought to.

And although not all cases are attributed to depression and other mental disorders, many cases have been confirmed to be a result of mental ill-health.

According to the Kenya Mental Health Policy (2015-2030) and other official data, mental disorder cases in the country continue to rise rapidly.

As many as 25 per cent of outpatients seeking primary healthcare present symptoms of mental illnesses, while at least one in four Kenyans will suffer from one at one point in life.

Mental health has, however, remained on the periphery; it is yet to achieve commensurate visibility, policy-level attention, political priority or budget allocations despite the Mental Health Act having been enacted in 1989.

With health a key pillar of the 'Big Four Agenda', it is time mental health received the attention it deserves.

DENT ON ECONOMY

The prevalence of mental disorders among employees is a pressing issue and has serious consequences not only to the individual but also the organisation and society.

Performance, illness rates, absenteeism, accidents and staff turnover are all affected by employees' mental status, World Health Organisation reports show, with a recent one saying depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion (Sh100 trillion) in lost productivity annually.

To mitigate these, it is imperative that employers strengthen conversations around mental health.

They ought to create an environment where people feel valued and are more open to one another. We all have a responsibility to look out for each other's mental well-being in the workplace as much as in our private lives.

As disability costs and absenteeism increase due to mental ill-health, there is a need for employers to recognise mental health disorders as a legitimate workplace concern.

DEBUNK MYTHS

One of the many ways of achieving this includes providing tools for recognition and early detection of mental health problems, HR professionals creating awareness through screening programmes and continuous communications to foster awareness among employees.

Take a holistic view when considering the well-being of employees, which can be done by incorporating mental health in the wellness programmes.

But just as with any other matter, mental health is surrounded by several myths. Myth 1: Mental illness is the same as mental retardation. Fact: These are two distinct disorders.

Myth 2: Recovery from a mental disorder is not possible. Fact: Long-term studies have shown that the majority of people with mental disorders show tremendous improvement over time and lead stable, productive lives.

INTERVENTIONS

Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of as it can affect anyone.

The ancient Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu said: "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present."

To eliminate the stigma around mental health disorders at the workplace, let us focus on the interventions by nurturing a conducive work environment, offering free and easily accessible counselling and letting people know that being vulnerable is human.

The author is the head of human resources at Diamond Trust Bank (DTB).

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