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The A-Z of mental health in the office



In 2018, mental disorders (13%) were the third most claimed for income protection category, according to Sanlam’s Claim Statistics. Overall, mental disorders account for 13% of the global burden of disease. In South Africa, one in three people has some form of mental disorder according to SADAG. With so many experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions, employers have an important opportunity to offer access to primary healthcare and benefits like counselling.

Dr Helen Weber, Medical Adviser at Sanlam, says, “Burnout has just been officially recognised by the World Health Organisation. It’s a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been managed. Often, spotting struggling employees and intervening early on is key. Employers who offer access to a psychologist, counsellor or life coach can make a huge difference – and possibly curb high rates of absenteeism down-the-line. Depression alone costs South Africa about R232-billion pa due to lost productivity.”

Frequently, taking much-needed time off exacerbates an employee’s stress as they worry about finances and job security. So, being in an inclusive work environment where there’s sensitivity to mental disorders makes a big difference. More and more, employers are recognising the importance of advocating mental health days as a must. There’s more training and communication around mental health and increasingly, progressive companies are seeing the benefits of subsidising some care.

Weber suggests that to create an inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued and understood, it’s vital to regularly raise awareness around mental health and employees’ rights. Here are some ways to keep mental health top of mind:

–   The Code of Good Practice on Key Aspects of Disability in the Workplace stipulates that employers must reasonably accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.  This constitutionally protects employees with mental disorders that render them incapacitated and unable to perform their duties. Its important employees are aware of these rights.

–   Regular sensitivity training can help stress how important early interventions are, plus diligence with treatment compliance. Mental disorders are often extremely treatable, but it’s key to access the correct treatment as soon as possible. It’s also important for companies to show understanding that it can take a while for someone to reach his or her maximum medical improvement – and that’s okay and support employee with the journey by being empathetic and understanding.

–   If an employer is offering access to a counsellor, life coach or psychologist, make sure the whole team is aware of this and feels safe to take advantage of it. Consider the feasibility of bringing a life coach in-house for monthly sessions.

–   The same goes for primary healthcare. If an employer is providing access to primary healthcare in the form of visits and assistance with compliance of medication to a primary healthcare practitioner, – it’s important all staff members are made aware of this service. – 

–   Put measures in place to check for signs of impending burnout in a team. Regularly check in on workload, the hours individuals are working, and keep tabs on how stressed/ happy people are feeling. 

–   Raise awareness around medical aid, disability, sickness and income protection as well as other support systems available. These can potentially make a significant difference in coping with the financial implications of a mental disorder. But, it’s also important people know that in terms of medical aid cover – a pre-existing condition will likely a waiting period will apply.

Additionally, its vital people are aware of prescribed minimum benefit (PMB) conditions. For example, bipolar disorder is a PMB, which means a   medical insurer is obligated to cover medication and treatment for this condition.

–    Providing access to a financial adviser can also make a big difference. Often, a mental disorder comes with a considerable financial burden. That’s where having access to objective advice can be invaluable.

–    Make sure people know they’re not alone! Globally, the World Health Organisation reports 264-million people have depression.  Mental health conditions are treatable and manageable and there is now less stigma around these conditions. So many are experiencing these conditions, and there are lots of support groups and hotlines available, like the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), which has a 24-hour helpline. Make sure these numbers are known. According to SADAG’s website, a counsellor can be contacted between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday on 011 234 4837. In emergency cases, call 0800 567 567

–    Advocate the importance of mental health days.

–    Raise awareness around the importance of support and positive lifestyle changes. It’s important to support a positive work/ life balance so offering flexitime when operationally possible means people have more options in terms of exercise, outside of extremely early morning or evening sessions. You could even offer yoga or something similar in-office.