The role of the Work Environment plays in your mental health
October is Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa. This is not to be taken lightly, as South Africa is in a mental health crisis. Without even including statistics on those living with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder among others, the prevalence of anxiety, depression and substance use challenges in the South African context is sitting at one in six according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). 40% of people living with HIV in South Africa have a diagnosable mental disorder. Dr Eugene Ellers a South African Psychiatrist believes that up to 6 million South Africans live with post-traumatic stress disorder. This research speaks to statistics in South Africa prior to the lockdown and pandemic.
We are a country plagued by generational trauma from a violent and oppressive political regime in our past, poverty, unemployment, inequality, racism, economic woes, lack of service delivery, load shedding, crime, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS, and xenophobia in our present. Consensus is that Covid-19, lockdowns and the pandemic have had profound effects on the mental illness faced by people in South Africa.
The World Health Organisation has determined that South Africans have had a 36.4% increase in anxiety disorder as well as a 38.7% increase in major depressive disorders since the pandemic. As mental health goes into decline and mental illness becomes a crisis, so does the prevalence of suicide increase and become a growing reality as a last resort for those who have nowhere else to turn. Suicide is the fourth most common cause of death among young people worldwide. Companies like Instagram try to hide the increase in suicide among young people, as a result of, using their platform. We need awareness about this reality, as the more we deny the problem, the less we talk about it. The less we talk about it, the greater the stigma. This will take a greater toll on people’s lives, deepening the crisis we will have on our hands.
Men in South Africa are four times as likely as women to commit suicide, however more women are diagnosed with depression than men and that is not to say that women are more depressed, just that women are seeking help more than men, according to SADAG. South Africa has 23 suicides every day and 20 attempted suicides. That is one per hour. We have the third-highest suicide rate in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation. Suicide is the leading cause of death in young South Africans aged 15 to 29. It has been found that 70 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental illness. 75% of people globally will not seek help for their mental illness. The South African Medical Research Council has examined the statistics on suicide from a demographic perspective finding that white men are most likely to commit suicide followed by African men, Indian men and Coloured men. In terms of women it is White females, followed by Indian females, Coloured women and then Black females with the lowest rates.
These are staggering figures pointing to a mental health crisis in South Africa. Although we have touched on the contributing factors such as unemployment to the mental health crisis, there are other citizens in the population who are actively employed. These people are just as likely to be suffering from mental illness due to many of the factors plaguing the South African psyche, however one differentiating factor is their ability to work and earn a living. Is the workplace a salve for mental illness, or is it yet another factor dragging us down?
The workplace can be a double-edged sword – contributing potentially to both mental wellness and mental ill health. Let’s look at the factors contributing to each side of the coin.
When work helps us thrive:
Being employed, doing work and earning a living can be a circumstance under which people will thrive. It is a resource financially and socially, our work feeds our identity, it boosts our self-esteem, self-efficacy and gives us a sense of purpose.
When work has a dark side:
On the other hand, the workplace, the work we do, and the benefits associated may be found lacking and contribute to mental illness in the population. This could be through poor working conditions, toxic workplace cultures, remuneration and benefits that are found wanting and over identification with work – making work the central organising factor in our lives leaving no space for any other areas of our lives to thrive.
We spend 80% of our lives working. This is why organisations, workplaces, and roles need to be better equipped to provide the kinds of environments that lead to thriving and deriving healthy benefits from work. Organisations that are not paying attention to mental health are failing to see the changes and disruptions brought on by Covid requiring more attention to mental health, the clear need for mental health interventions, and are waiting in vain for the world to return to normal. These organisations will get left behind. They are failing to change and attend to the real and pressing societal focus on mental health (Ratangee, 2021).
The workplace, due to the amount of time we spend there and its nature, exposes us to stress. When we are exposed to stress, we can develop mental illness and that in turn breeds more stress which impacts further the intensity of our mental illness, and on it goes in a cycle. It is critical that as individuals we manage our resilience and stress and also that organisations and workplaces put steps in place to mitigate the stress impact, paying real attention to mental health. Organisations must deliver resources to employees that deal with stress management and employee mental health and wellbeing. This is non-negotiable.
Reach out to Wellbe and Company today to put these steps in place that your employees critically need.
We are here to re-imagine wellness in the workplace. We are a corporate wellness consultancy that uses workplace initiatives to improve employee health, organisational well-being and overall corporate culture. We’re on a mission to inspire change and instil a culture of health and wellness in daily corporate life, while improving team productivity and business performance along the way.
We are here to partner with you to address the critical need of fostering resilience in your workforce to mitigate the effects of the mental health crisis in the workplace. Our services to address this includes: stress management and mental health interventions, wellness days, employee counselling and support, and executive wellness amongst others.
Contact us today to ensure you have the resources in place that your employees want and need.