Line managers and Employers should be trained on the different kinds of mental illnesses.  Why?

Summary of Health 24 Article

 Mental illness can have a big impact on productivity, and it’s often a challenge to deal with the issue in the workplace.

  • It is estimated that globally between 12% and 48% of people suffer from mental illness/disorders. Over 70% of this burden lies in low and middle income countries.
  • In one study 15% of participants acknowledged that they suffered from an anxiety disorder which could include OCD, PTSD and Panic Disorders. Nearly 10% suffered from mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorders. Another 9% suffer from substance abuse disorders. Nearly a third of the respondents reported a lifetime history of at least one psychiatric disorder.
  • South Africa is a largely traumatized society, evident from high crime statistics, rape and domestic violence which would increase the prevalence of mental illness.
  • According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group 80% of workers diagnosed with depression continue to work.
  • In South African mental health doesn’t feature as a public health priority. In rural communities mental health is not supported at all. This has however increased in the last 2 decades.
  • But only about a quarter of those who needed treatment were getting access.
  • On average only 3% of the budget is spent on mental illness in various provinces.

 Why is it difficult dealing with mental illness in the workplace?

  1. There is such a stigma to mental illnesses which is mostly based on ignorance.
  2. Much of it is invisible and very few people admit to having a problem.
  3. Many employers are not aware of the different mental health disorders and what each one entails.

Tips for Employees with mental illness or disorder
Should I tell my workmates?

  1. Use your discretion before you share your illness with work colleagues as not everyone is sympathetic and understanding and it could give the impression of you being “fixated on your illness” (Health 24)

Should you take sick leave?
Well it depends if you need to adapt to medication or if you are hospitalized, but in general one needs to be distracted and keeping busy with one’s normal routine can assist one in managing the depression without going into a spiral of decline out of which one has to “crawl”.

Find out about support systems

Most larger companies have EAP programmes to assist employees with mental illness. One would not want to create a heavy burden which would affect the productivity if one relies on support from colleagues.

What is the state of care available in South Africa?
South Africa’s mental health workforce is woefully inadequate. There are only 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.3 psychologists and 0.4 social workers for every 100 000 residents. South Africa has 800 registered psychiatrists and nearly 8 000 psychologists, mostly working in private health.

Although the government has made significant strides creating policy and passing legislation to provide mental health services, implementation has been a problem. This is because:

  • Most of the groups supporting people with mental disorders are non-profit organisations that survive on shoestring budgets.
  • A shortage of state resources for the specialised and complex needs of psychiatric disorders.
  • There should be strong collaboration between the service providers, particularly non-profit organisations, and the private sector. This does not happen.

Any progress:

“There are some promising initiatives in the pipeline to strengthen mental healthcare in the country and in parts of the continent.”  The state has a responsibility to provide mental illness treatment and to promote mental health. But it cannot do it on its own and needs the collaboration of NGO’s and the private sector.
André Janse van Rensburg is a researcher at the Centre for Health Systems Research & Development, University of the Free State.