Mental health in the workplace

PHOTO: PagePersonnel

Tuesday 10 October 2017 marks World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is Mental health in the workplace. During our adult lives, a large proportion of our time is spent at work. Our experience in the workplace is one of the factors determining our overall wellbeing. Employers and managers who put in place workplace initiatives to promote mental health and to support employees who have mental disorders, see gains not only in the health of their employees but also in their productivity at work. A negative working environment, on the other hand, may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression and anxiety disorders are common mental disorders that have an impact on our ability to work and to do our work productively. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both.


Warning signs to watch for in yourself:

  • Decreased or increased appetite
    • Insomnia
    • Lack of energy and motivation
    • Loss of libido
    • Avoiding social situations
    • Not wanting to do things you previously enjoyed
    • Amenorrhoea (skipped or ceased periods in women and young girls not on contraceptive medication)


In others:

  • Changes in behaviour
    • Helplessness and hopelessness
    • Emotional withdrawal, such as not engaging with friends or going out
    • Changes in eating patterns
    • Changes in sleeping patterns
    • A preoccupation with death or dying
    • Moodiness, irritability, sadness or feeling blue


If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms, you need to see a doctor who can assess the situation, prescribe medication if necessary and put you in touch with a psychologist or psychiatrist. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is a great resource for guidance and support. Visit the website at


Lifestyle management tips to reduce the effects of mental health disorders:

  1. Create structure
    No matter how awful you feel, it’s important to keep to regular appointments, routines, engagements and sleep/awake times.
  2. Limit stressors
    Take time off work or restructure your work schedule into tasks that are more easily completed, require less concentration and can be accomplished in shorter periods of time.
  3. Practice mindfulness
    Mindfulness is a focus on living in the present. It is calmly accepting your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Meditation can help you to be more mindful and when you are mindful, you’re taking responsibility for what you do, why you’re doing it and recognising that you have choices.
  4. Exercise
    This is as essential for mental health as it is for physical health. In general, the average person needs regular daily cardiovascular, weight-bearing exercise.
  5. Eat right and avoid substance abuse
    It’s important to eat a balanced diet and to avoid drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Often someone with mental health problems will try to self-medicate with alcohol, but this just makes depression and anxiety worse.

Distributed by:

Ineke van Huyssteen

ER24 Multimedia Journalist