Mental Health in the Workplace

World Mental Health Day will be celebrated tomorrow (10th October), and this year’s theme ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ is very timely as new research continues to emerge on its human, social and economic costs to organisations.

For clarification, when we speak of mental health it is not only about the presence of a mental illness, but more importantly, it is about levels of psychological and emotional wellness, and where you are on the continuum at any given point in time. In other words, everyone has mental health and whether you are feeling on top of the world or in a crisis, determines your positioning on the mental health spectrum. Therefore, mental health in the workplace does not only relate to those employees who may have a diagnosed condition, but relevant to each and every person.

For most people their job is at the core of their being, and though motivations for work may differ it provides financial security, a sense of identity, and the opportunity to contribute to society. Generally speaking, people enter the world of employment wanting the chance to work productively and creatively, to form and nurture positive friendships and relationships, to fulfil their personal goals, and to achieve a sense of purpose. None the less, the demands on employees, challenging work environments, coupled with the day to day stressors of life negatively impact on individual’s functional and working capacity.

But those circumstances do not only affect the individual’s mental health and their quality of individual lives. The effects are rippled down throughout organisations as noted in the (WHO) report which indicates that lost productivity due to depression and anxiety has a global economic cost of US$1 trillion dollars.

Since the budget announcements last week there has been much talk about companies implementing cost saving measures. But, we know that historically health promotion in the workplace is often disregarded as an efficiency measure, even though research evidences the link between healthy and inclusive work environments with productivity and profits.

The World Health Organisation describes a healthy workplace as “one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace…” and in this regard many large organisations have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). Those programmes are designed “to help employees deal with personal concerns or issues that may adversely impact their job performance, health and wellbeing. They also provide training for supervisors/managers in identifying and supporting employees whose work performance may be impaired by personal socio-economic or family problems” (Families in Action) and are great initiative in addressing situational stressors. However, there is still much to be done regarding promoting good mental health within workplaces.

An overriding theme that has emerged from research previously conducted in T&T has been the lack of knowledge, awareness and understandings on how to deal with mental health situations in the workplace. The upshot being, that inherent taboos, biases and stigmas has been played out in organisational settings which leads to unfair and in some cases unlawful human resource practices that discriminate against and infringe upon the human rights of persons with mental health challenges.

Therefore, in keeping with this year’s World Mental Health theme, and to meet evidenced gaps in workplace mental health, Trinidad and Tobago will see the launch of the Institute of Management and Leadership (ILM) accredited Mental Health First Response Leadership training, that will enable anyone to gain competence in first aid responses to mental health crisis situations.

Acquiring the knowledge and skills of the training programme means that help can be offered to children, young people and adults who may be experiencing a mental health challenge. It also means that organisations will be sending out a positive message indicating that they are institutions of good practice, receptive to addressing and promoting positive mental health in the workplace through the introduction of a comprehensive strategic approach that sees its employees trained as mental health first response leaders.

Organisation will also gain a competitive edge garnered from the cost benefit, social and economic gains of having a mentally healthier workforce.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society.  Contact her at yr@efficacyeva.com

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