human resources

The Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace

Zoe Papadakis

By Zoe Papadakis Sep 29, 2021 · 3 mins read

The Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace
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Mental health in the workplace is an important topic that needs to be addressed.

In a recent survey, 72% of respondents said that mental illness was affecting their work performance. What’s more, the survey found that 69% of their superiors did little to address mental health in the workplace once employees had brought it up. What many employers don’t realise is that mental illness can negatively impact business.

“Mental illness in the workplace leads to decreased productivity, increased sick-related absenteeism, poor work quality, wasted materials and even compromised workplace safety,” Dr. Ali Hamdulay said while writing for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). “Despite the significant financial loss to employers and broad economy, many mental disorders fly below the radar in the workplace. A more proactive approach for managing mental illness in the workplace is a strategic imperative for South African employers.”

As Hamdulay explained, many employers tend to completely underestimate the financial impact of mental illness.

“Increasing levels of mental illness drive up disability costs and demand more medical scheme spend,” he pointed out. “There is also a strong correlation between mental health disorders and substance abuse.”

That being said, employees often choose to keep their mental illness hidden from their employers due to fear of stigma and employers tend to avoid asking too many questions — something they can not afford to do. There needs to be a change when it comes to mental health in the workplace.

“Like any chronic condition, mental illness can be managed successfully through disease management. Many companies have established specific programs to manage depression, bipolar disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse amongst employees and medical scheme beneficiaries,” Hamdulay pointed out.

“Some companies have also established Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) to support employees dealing with issues that impact on mental health. To improve the efficacy of these programs, appropriate linkages between EAPs and other interventions, such as scheme-level disease management, are important.”

There are other ways companies can support mental health in the workplace. This can include modifying policies and practices surrounding flexible hours, the option to work remotely, and paid and unpaid leave. It is important to note that employees are legally entitled to time off from work due to mental health reasons. As Law For All notes, “if an employee seeks the help of a medical professional for depression and anxiety, and they are told it’s best to be booked off for some time, then they do qualify to take sick leave, which every South African employee is entitled to take.”

Medical health professionals are not obligated to state why they are booking a patient off and can simply say “medical condition” in the sick note.


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