Breaking the stigma: Mental health in the workplace – 5 articles you must read

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The recent suicide of Professor Bongani Mayosi, a top South African cardiologist, has dominated newsfeeds.

According to his family, Prof Mayosi had a long struggle with depression. They said in a statement, “In the last two years he has battled with depression and on that day [Friday 27 July 2018] took the desperate decision to end his life. We are still struggling to come to terms with this devastating loss.”

Following a suicide, people always have mixed feelings – there is grief, there is anger, there is judgement. But the reality is: Depression is a medical condition that affects more than 300 million people worldwide. Suicide is its deadliest symptom.

In South Africa, it’s estimated that about 4.5 million people (or 9.7% of the population) suffer from depression. Statistics show that one in four people in the workplace suffer from this often debilitating illness. And that means there is a good chance that the person who sits next to you has had to cope with depression at some stage in their life.

A supportive workplace culture is paramount

Psychiatrist and leadership lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), Dr Renata Schoeman previously told Health24, “Stigma, born out of ignorance, prejudice or fear, is a major problem in the workplace, creating a situation where employees choose to rather suffer in silence. One can understand their reluctance to seek support or report their condition, especially in the current economic climate where they might fear losing their job. As a result mental health problems often go undiagnosed and untreated, not only to the detriment of the individual’s career and health but also directly impacting the workplace’s bottom line.”

She said that although policies and guidelines are necessary in the workplace, those alone will not make a difference. Instead, companies need to foster a supportive culture of understanding and acceptance around mental illness.

Here are five articles you should read about mental health in the workplace today:

1. Bipolar in the workplace: ‘I was asked whether I was taking crazy people’s meds’

Can an employer or manager discriminate against you for having a mental illness? Michelle Lewis opens up about how she was forced to resign due to bipolar.

2. If you are depressed, does it mean you have a disability?

If you suffer from a mental illness like depression, does it mean you have a disability? Surprisingly, the answer is yes – but it also depends. A mental illness can be considered a disability only if you choose to declare it as such. If you do, your employer is legally obliged to give you reasonable accommodation, which, according to Dr Lori Eddy, a counselling psychologist.

3. ‘I’m taking a mental health day’

Madalyn Parker recently told her boss that she was taking ‘a mental health day’. How would you respond if you were her boss?

4. Could the idea of a ‘mental health day’ just make the stigma around mental health worse?

How should we be handling mental health in the workplace – no different to any other illness, according to experts, otherwise we raise the risk of worsening the stigma.

5. 1 in 4 SA workers suffers from depression

Depression affects more than 9.7% of the South African population and negatively affects the economy. How should companies handle mental illness?


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