Mental Health Issues at Work

unhappy employee

Are you worried about someone at work because their behaviour is concerning you? Is your usually dependable colleague missing deadlines, looking tired and overwhelmed, avoiding social activities, or taking too many sick days?

How do you address what’s happening – or more importantly, should you? You might think that it’s not your place to talk so someone about how they’re feeling, especially if they’re not a close friend, but, surely, if someone is limping you’d ask if they were okay, not so? Why should mental health be any different?

About 16.5% of the adult population in South Africa suffers from a mental illness, so, if you are employed by a large organisation, the chances that you’re working with someone who has a mental illness is high. Issues around mental illness in the workplace are complex and the onus is on those with a mental illness to seek treatment, BUT it’s on the rest of us – business owners, colleagues, and managers – to provide a supportive workplace. It’s not just a moral imperative, it’s smart business. The productivity upside is huge.

So, how can you help?

  • Read up on mental illness. Increase your awareness.
  • Improve the way you talk about mental health issues. This may be the number one, most helpful thing you can do. Think twice about making offhand remarks about “going crazy” or “acting psycho.”
  • Ask open ended questions such as: “I have noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately, is there anything that I can do to make it easier for you right now?”
  • Don’t minimize the problem. Telling someone to “pull it together” makes their mental health problem sound trivial.
  • Provide a safe and confidential space to speak.
  • Don’t assume, diagnose, or label. Don’t jump to conclusions about what’s going on, it may not always be a mental health issue. Don’t push your colleague to share personal detail; your role is to be understanding and supportive. Respect you colleague’s right to decide how much they’re comfortable in disclosing.
  • Listen, but know your boundaries. Recommend they speak to a GP or psychologist.
  • Be patient. As with a physical illness, the journey to recovery can be a long one. Your colleague need to know that he or she is supported, regardless of how long it may take.
  • Encourage colleagues on building up their resilience in doing things that support good mental health such as exercise, meditation, and eating healthy.

Long working hours, excessive workload and poor relationships with colleagues can lead to unmanageable stress, which in turn can cause a mental health problem to spiral out of control. Look around you, chances are good that someone you work with has a mental health issue.

For most people, a job isn’t just a way to make a living but core to their dignity. If some small action makes it easier for them to hold on to that, why not do something?







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