Reducing the Stigma of Mental Health

by BTM

Mon, 01 October 2018

Reducing the Stigma of Mental Health

Chartered psychologist and psycho-oncologist, Subathra Jeyaram, writes that one in five workers experience a mental health condition.

Depression and anxiety disorders are common mental disorders that have an impact on our ability to work, and to work productively. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that, by the year 2020, depression will be the second most frequent cause of disability worldwide, second only to ischaemic heart disease.
Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy USD1 trillion each year in lost productivity!
It is estimated that around 70 per cent of people with depression are in the workforce. Adults spend a large proportion of their time at work and, thus, workplace experience is an important determinant of overall well-being. 

The largest indirect cost of mental illness comes in the form of decreased performance due to absenteeism, or regularly missing work, and presenteeism, or working while sick. Employees working with untreated illnesses cost employers USD1,601 per person each year. Employees who meet the criteria for depression but are not receiving treatment are estimated to utilise two to four times the health resources of their peers.
Thus, the workplace is the most important place to discuss mental health issues and illnesses. Employers have an excellent opportunity to change the climate of stigma around mental health. Employers who put in place workplace initiatives to promote mental health and to support employees who have mental disorders see gains not only in the health of their employees but also in their morale, productivity at work and talent retention.

Ways in which employers can promote the mental health of employees:  

  • Awareness and prevention – include mental health in the overall corporate wellness package. Regularly conduct lectures, talks on mental health topics by professionals and include mental health in annual health screening. 
  • Sensitisation – sensitise management and HR to identify and address employees in need of assistance and evaluation. Create a network of appropriate professional information and referral resources for employees in need. 
  • Work-life balance – compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging and can damage relationships, health and overall happiness. Efforts to create a balance by promoting on-the-job training, mentorship, work flexibility to accommodate family and relationship demands, et cetera, can go a long way in reducing work-related stress.  
  • Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – this is a unique programme where a limited number of consultations with a mental health professional are offered to the employee by the employer. It is an intervention programme that serves to identify and help employees with resolving any number of personal, financial, emotional, marital or substance abuse issues that they may face by speaking to a professional. Companies with an EAP have 21 per cent lower absenteeism and 14 per cent higher productivity.

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