Jerry O.: World Mental Health Day 2017 - Mental Health Concerns at the Workplace

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in September 2017, more than 300 million people globally suffer from depression, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety.  The WHO has found that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

Unemployment is a well-recognized risk factor for mental health problems, while returning to, or getting work is protective.  However, a negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.
Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains (WHO, 2017).
With the incidences of mental health issues like Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other mental health concerns like depression on the rise in the workforce - a fact that is usually overlooked because these disorders tend to be hidden at work.  In countries like Singapore, the stigma attached to having a psychiatric disorder is such that employees may be reluctant to speak to anyone or seek treatment (especially in the current economic climate) out of fear that they might jeopardize their career, or lose their jobs.
As a result, mental health disorders often go unrecognized and untreated — not only damaging an individual's health and career, but also reducing productivity at work. 
Adequate treatment, on the other hand, can alleviate symptoms for the employee and improve job performance.  But accomplishing these objectives requires a shift in attitudes about mental disorders concerns and the recognition that such a worthwhile achievement takes effort, time, and a lot of support from the organisation.

A healthy workplace can be described as one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all employees.
A recent guide from the World Economic Forum suggests that interventions should take a 3-pronged approach:

  • Address mental health problems regardless of cause.
  • Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors.
  • Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees.

Interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace include:
  • implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress, harmful use of psychoactive substances and illness and providing resources to manage them;
  • informing staff that support is available;
  • involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance;
  • programmes for career development of employees; and
  • recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.
Organizations can take various steps to facilitate a more conducive work environment for colleagues who come with mental health concerns, without compromising productivity.  Steps organizations can take to create a healthy workplace, includes:
  • Awareness of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted to promote better mental health for different employees.
  • Learning from the motivations of organizational leaders and employees who have taken action.
  • Not reinventing wheels by being aware of what other companies who have taken action have done.
  • Understanding the opportunities and needs of individual employees, in helping to develop better policies for workplace mental health.
  • Awareness of sources of support and where people can find help.
If someone you know is affected by a mental health issues, getting support from friends and family can make all the difference to their recovery. If your fellow colleague is showing signs of a mental health concerns or reaches out for help, you could offer support by:
  • asking how they are
  • being available to listen
  • acknowledging how they are feeling
  • asking what you can do to help
  • choosing a good time and place to talk, when you are both relaxed
  • being sensitive, positive and encouraging
  • keeping the conversation relaxed and open
  • talking about other topics too - don’t let a mental health issue become the centre of your relationship
  • being informed - read quality, evidence-based information and become familiar with the signs and symptoms of their mental health issue
  • starting slowly - try small actions first, such as going for a walk or visiting a friend
  • encouraging them to get enough sleep, eat healthy food and exercise
  • discouraging them from self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
  • inviting them out, and encouraging other people in your lives to do so too
  • offering practical support, such as doing their shopping or cooking meals
  • encouraging them to seek help immediately if they are at risk of suicide or self-harm
  • explaining why you’re concerned and offer examples
  • using ‘I statements’, such as ‘I’m worried…’ or ‘I’ve noticed…’
  • providing information, such as books or brochures for them to read in their own time
  • offering to make an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional on their behalf, and offering to take them
When someone you know is struggling or has a mental health issue, it can be difficult to support them – despite your best intentions, some comments may do more harm than good. Here are some things that are best left unsaid and the reasons why. It is important not to:
  • make unhelpful or dismissive comments like ‘snap out of it’, ‘cheer up’, ‘forget about it’, ‘pull yourself together’, or ‘I’m sure it will pass’ - these comments can make a person feel worse
  • saying ‘I know how you feel’ when you really don’t, because this invalidates their experience
  • point out that others are worse off - this is dismissive
  • blame anyone for changes in their behaviour, especially when you feel tired and frustrated
  • avoid the person
  • make fun of their mental illness
  • pressure them, if they don’t want to go out or to discuss their issues with you
  • think of mental illness as a personal weakness or failing
  • define your colleague by their mental illness (labelling them)
  • use words that stigmatise, like ‘psycho’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘siao’
  • get frustrated or angry
  • feel guilty if you didn’t know your colleague has a mental health issue - the changes can be gradual, and people often hide their symptoms from close friends, colleagues and family
The WHO has advised that Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation. Occupational health services or professionals may support organizations in implementing these interventions where they are available, but even when they are not, a number of changes can be made that may protect and promote mental health. The key to success is involving stakeholders and staff at all levels when providing protection, promotion and support interventions and when monitoring their effectiveness. (WHO, 2017)

Happy World Mental Health Day!!!
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