Mental Health Issues And The Workplace

By Anderson Mwareya

The COVID- 19 pandemic exposed the shortcomings which were in our healthcare system and the workplace. The pandemic did not only further exacerbate the risk of already existing Mental Health Conditions (MHC) but it also aggravated pre-existing MHC. This is particularly true for the employees. Prior to the COVID 19 pandemic era, the workplace was already affected by workplace stresses which oftentimes lead to some mental health problems. On average, every working Zimbabwean spends one third of their life at work. That is a lot of time employees get to be exposed to work-related stresses. Research has generally proven that the psychological wellbeing of the employee has a direct effect on work performance yet issues of mental health remain largely unaddressed at the workplace. Most employees do not have the capacity (knowledge and skills) to screen themselves and this puts them at high risk of severe mental health conditions.

The current economic environment in Zimbabwe, coupled with already existing socio-economic challenges such as poverty, low salaries and inflation is putting employees under immense psychological pressure. If one adds work stresses to this, the problem becomes more pronounced. The situation has led to many employees suffering from mental health issues such depression and anxiety. However, the tragedy is that many employees suffer in silence. One may ask why? There is no one answer to this question. The three uppermost reasons why employees choose to suffer in silence as regards to their mental health state are: lack of awareness about mental health, stigma associated with mental health and most importantly lack of or very limited Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) services offered at the workplace. Simple logic dictates that if we are hurt anywhere, we must seek treatment to get better. This applies to both our mental and physical well-being.

However, due to lack of awareness about mental health issues, people in general and employees in particular are not aware that they are suffering from a mental health issue.

In as much as employees have an idea when they have symptoms of a physical sickness and they choose to sick medical help, many people are not even aware of the symptoms of mental health issues. One may be suffering from a mental health issue and be unaware of it. Companies in Zimbabwe do not have a culture of mental health awareness programmes at the work place. The situation is further exacerbated by the stigma that has been long associated with mental health. The stigma around mental health and treatment has long existed, even though this has started to change.

Historically, mental health in Zimbabwe has been associated with a lot of stigmas with some associating it with evil spirits or kutanda botso. As a result, many professionals hesitate to seek help or even talk about it with their loved ones for fear of being judged and facing unnecessary backlash. Perhaps the principal reason why employees are suffering in silence when it comes to mental health is the lack of or very limited Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services (MHPSS) offered at the workplace. Many companies and organizations in Zimbabwe do not provide any mental health support for their employees. There are no professionally trained mental health personnel readily available at the organization or through third parties to provide mental health and psychosocial support to workers. As a result, employees end up suffering in silence. There has been reported cases of employees committing suicide at the workplace yet they would be coming to work every day and nobody ever notices that they are suffering.

Mental health is directly associated with employee performance. A workforce struggling with severe mental health conditions affects productivity for the employer and national economy. It is therefore, vital that organizations in Zimbabwe must as a matter of urgency provide mental health services at the workplace. The starting point would be having a robust mental health policy for the company. This gives employees and management a framework to encourage proper management and treatment of mental health associated challenges. It also lets employees know that the organization wants to remove any stigma surrounding mental health so they feel comfortable discussing any mental health issues with their managers. As anxiety and depression (and concurring substance abuse) become more prevalent, employers who want to retain and motivate productive employees and consequently improve their bottom line must put in place a mental health management policy. After the policy is established, it is vital that companies provide mental health and psychosocial support services to their employees. Companies are encouraged to provide counseling services to their employees. Workplace counseling is an integrative process between an employee who is vulnerable and requires assistance from a counselor who is trained and educated to give such assistance. Employee counseling entails the provision of help and support services to the employees in a way that helps them to face and sail through the difficult times in life.

Psychologists, Carroll and Walton (2020) are of the opinion that there is also room f or professional employee counsellors to set up and maintain therapeutic working alliances with the workers in an organization. Organisations could adopt a strategy of having trained mental counseling psychologist stationed at their organizations ready to offer psychological counseling to employees as and when need arises. The counseling psychologist would conduct periodic mental health awareness campaigns at the company to keep employees well abreast with matters of mental health. Companies could also engage private mental health providers where employees could go when they need mental health services and the company bears the cost through the medical aid facility.

Sadly, in Zimbabwe most companies do not have any counseling psychologists or any sort of mental health and psycho social services provided for their employees. Workplace counselling is vital in improving and maintaining the employees’ mental wellbeing. McLeod (2001) argues that, counseling in the workplace helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve mental health, lower levels of sickness and increase job satisfaction and commitment. Counseling also helps to increase staff morale, boost confidence and self-esteem and improvements in productivity and efficiency. Counselling enables workers to explore alternative solutions to the problems with greater health and well-being resulting in better work performance.

However, over and above the benefits that workplace counseling brings to the employee it is also hugely beneficial to the organization. As many studies have proven that counseling increases workforce productivity. It also creates a workplace safety net. Companies should not wait for employees to fall into crisis to go to therapy. Evidence has shown that this form of support is an effective way to prevent workplace related ailments from occurring in the first place. Moreso, workplace counseling destigmatizes mental health. Embedding workplace counseling into your employee wellness strategy creates a culture where help-seeking is encouraged.

All in all, organizational leaders, as cultural pacesetters and role models for the organization, need to consider mental health management as an essential, employee welfare initiative that requires to be institutionalized. This means making especially, counseling a wellness program for all employees and not solely for those who seem to have issues affecting their work. When the wellbeing of staff is maintained and developed, leaders can then help employees to achieve mental resilience while maintaining strategic organizational success.

Anderson Mwareya is an Intern Counselling Psychologist-Great Zimbabwe University

4 thoughts on “Mental Health Issues and The Workplace”

  1. Well done Anderson it is an engaging piece and a step forward in raising this awareness in the workplace for sure

  2. Interesting article. You may want to find out more about Friendahip Bench and the WHO programe on Linkedln, CIMAS workplace wellness programme, Psychological First Aid Certification offered by Prof. Zirima and others, Connect Zimbabwe various cetifications among other workplace interventions that are in place and newly introduced @ the workplaces in Zimbabwe..

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *