Many of us report to work every day without questioning the impact of the workplace on our mental status.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) information sheet on mental health in the workplace states that globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression and anxiety, and this costs the global economy sh100 trillion each year in lost productivity.
The information sheet further notes that a negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.
Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.
While these concerns may seem abstract, the reality is that many people are in jobs they hate or jobs from which they derive no satisfaction. They stay on because they need to earn an income to meet their obligations.
Many are in industries they were not trained for or holding positions they are inadequately prepared for. This leads to constant anxiety, that reduces productivity and threatens mental health.
The negative impact of poor workplace mental health is felt even more acutely in the delicate industry of healthcare. In a space where the health workers are entrusted with the most vulnerable in society, the importance of securing the mental health of the workforce cannot be overly emphasised.
The health profession is not only noble, but also deeply satisfying as it touches on the very core of humanity.
A grateful smile from a patient relieved of pain is deeply satisfying to the physiotherapist who diligently works to rehabilitate him. A beaming smile from a new father deeply reassures the midwife that her work is not in vain.
However, unhappy, demoralised, overworked and demotivated health workers pose a danger to the very patients they swore to protect from harm.
Many mentally ill people continue to struggle in their workplaces as their challenges go unacknowledged and unsupported. The unfortunate outcome of this in the healthcare setting is that many times, the struggling health worker may end up putting themselves and their patients in the way of harm inadvertently.
That nurse accused of reporting late to work every day may be struggling with depression and her medications make her so drowsy, she is unable to get up in time. That young doctor accused of being drunk all the time may be battling alcoholism resulting from bipolar disorder that has remained undiagnosed for years. That laboratory technician who takes forever to deliver patients’ results may be struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder and has to repeat his tests several times to be sure of the outcome.
When they come under pressure, they crumble and the outcome may be messy. Health professionals have died from accidental drug overdoses while abusing prescription medication.
Some have turned violent towards colleagues or abusive to patients during episodes of mania. Others have inadvertently caused delays that have resulted in bad outcomes for their patients as they could not be reached when on call, only to be found dead in their houses having hit rock bottom and ended their lives.
In such a delicate profession, where life hangs in the balance, it is critical that the workplace is a safe haven for all workers.
The working environment must be supportive to all so that they are able to thrive and give their very best to those in their care. Healthcare workers must be motivated, supported continuously in their work, provided with the right environment and resources to be able to deliver on their mandate, and appropriately motivated to give their very best.
In the same vein, those suffering from various mental health issues require timely intervention to facilitate diagnosis and treatment.
Their right to job protection must be assured as stipulated in Article 27 of The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which provides a legally-binding global framework for promoting the rights of people with disabilities (including psychosocial disabilities).
It recognises that every person with a disability has the right to work, should be treated equally and not be discriminated against, and should be provided with support in the workplace.
The same applies to all other industries. As organisations continue to recognise the importance of physical health and enroll their employees in wellness programmes, the mental health aspect should not be left out.
Organisations must endeavour to identify risk factors that threaten the mental health of staff and strive to eliminate them.
They must continually strive to improve on the strengths of their employees while modifying their weaknesses to promote their mental wellness.
For those with mental health illnesses or problems, there must be clear policies on how to facilitate their access to care and to re-integrate them back into the work environment within their limitations.
After all, every industry needs to do their share in saving the billions of shillings lost in this country as a result of poor mental health!