It often goes invisible. A feeling, a pain. It lives within many. The person in front of you in line for your morning coffee. The coworker to your right. The silent manager. Mental health issues come in a variety of forms and experiences. Many people suffer from anxiety disorders, mood disorders, or personality disorders that can impact their ability to work effectively. However, because mental health is not as easily quantifiable as a physical disorder, it often gets disregarded.
Understanding and acknowledging the importance of prioritizing mental health is important, especially in today’s burnout culture that encourages people to hustle and push themselves beyond their limit. Mental health is a workplace concern. It can deeply impact the quality of work employees complete. Furthermore, employers should care about more than just their employees work. They should also care about their wellbeing.
Mental health at Work
A 2017 SADAG study shows that 59% of workers between the ages of 31-50 have experienced stigma around mental health in the workplace. 79% of these workers were women, and 21% were men. 73% of workers interviewed stated that mental health issues have affected their work performance, as well as their relationships.
Mental health issues are, to a degree, acknowledged in the South African Employment Equity Act. The act defines mental health issues as “a long-term or recurring physical, including sensory, or mental impairment which substantially limits their prospect of entry into or advancement in employment.” Because the Act cannot list all forms of mental health, its vague definition leaves employers in charge of determining what constitutes a disability.
However, employees rarely speak about their struggles. This is because of the stigma and misunderstanding attached to mental health. Sebolelo Seape, chairperson of the Psychiatry Management Group, says, “In South Africa, employees are very likely to keep working during periods of depression, impacting their productivity and performance at work. This can be due to fear of losing their jobs, being ostracized by colleagues, or lack of mental health knowledge, not understanding why they are going through a spell of periods of not being well,” she explains. “Even those who take a sick day here and there because they are not mentally up for it, are in essence self-diagnosing and their perceived coping mechanism will draw negative attention. In addition, they could be losing out on the support structure offered by their employer, putting their career and relationship with colleagues at risk.”
We need to erase harmful ideas that those that struggle with mental health issues are making it up because they’re lazy. Seape argues, “If depression is continuously seen as a weakness and something that people make up to receive special treatment or paid days off work, or those suffering fear for their jobs, then neither the stigma associated with depression nor the lack in productivity and loss in revenue will change.”