Why you should care about mental health

Rolling Inspiration
By Rolling Inspiration
5 Min Read

Progression invites you to attend the Sixth Annual Disability Conference in Johannesburg on September 19. This year’s theme is “Let’s Talk Mental Health” and highlights the fact that not all disabilities are visible. Important topics around mental disability will be discussed, including: defining mental disability in the workplace, reasonable accommodation measures, awareness, disclosure and much more.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), approximately one in five people will, or do, suffer from a mental illness, including depression, bipolar mood disorder, schizophrenia or anxiety disorders. This number is increasing annually, which is why there is a need to create a deeper understanding of mental illnesses.

Figures provided by Discovery Health show a 41-percent increase in payouts relating to mental illness from 2009 to 2014. In addition, psychiatric disorders are now the third-largest contributor to the local burden of disease. These numbers highlight the growing need for employers, and society in general, to proactively address and manage mental health.

Unfortunately, many employees choose not to disclose their mental illness out of fear of stigmatisation. Some employers also choose to avoid discussing mental health due to the perceived costs it may incur. In addition, South Africa’s mental-health services are significantly limited. SADAG states that a shocking 85 percent of South Africans do not receive treatment for their mental illnesses.

There are various reasons for this extremely high number, including the limited space in public mental hospitals in South Africa. There are only 18 beds available in 23 public mental hospitals for every 100 000 South Africans. The highly publicised Esidimeni case is evidence of the utter disregard for people with mental disabilities in South Africa.

Close to 100 mentally ill patients died between March and December last year as a result of being moved from the Life Esidimeni Hospital to various non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This was done in order to cut costs. Health Ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, notes: “None of the 93 patients died from a mental illness. They died from other things like dehydration, diarrhoea, epilepsy.”

This case is just the “tip of the iceberg” says Professor Bernard Janse van Rensburg, president of The South African Society for Psychiatrists. “The SA healthcare system is totally fragmented and broken.”

Thus, in the best interests of society and corporate South Africa, responsibility needs to be shared. Justene Smith, disability expert at Progression, provides insight into the proactive measures organisations can take in managing and addressing mental health.

It’s all about the culture

Creating an accepting, educated and sensitised workforce is imperative and is often the first step in addressing mental health in the workplace. Awareness workshops and “Disability Days” are one way in which an organisation can improve knowledge of mental health and disability to create a more accepting workforce.

Knowledge is key

Empowering and equipping a company’s human resources (HR) staff to fully understand and deal with mental health issues is also crucial. This can be done through capacity building sessions, offered by Progression. These sessions are extremely interactive and provide attendees with valuable knowledge of key aspects of disability, increasing awareness and enabling successful integration of people with disabilities into the workplace. There are also various conferences and expos packed with useful information that HR staff could attend.

Implementing adequate policies and procedures

Policies specifically focused on disability in the workplace will ensure employees are aware of their rights and the process to follow when disclosing a disability. Having clear and thorough procedures in place ensures that the disclosure process is handled in a professional and confidential manner.

Embracing flexibility

Flexible workplaces are becoming more and more common. Allowing flexibility in the workplace will allow employers and employees to negotiate working conditions that suit both parties. This will help employees to maintain a healthy work and life balance, improve their mental wellbeing as well as their productivity and efficiency. In most cases, people with mental illness are entitled to one day of leave per month to collect medication and see their medical practitioner. It is important that employers are aware of and support this right.


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