Employers need to take proactive steps destigmatise mental illness in the workplace and help everyone in their employ to identify early signs of mental illness, a South Africa-based expert said, as the country commemorates Mental Illness Awareness Month.
Urvashi Ramjee, head of claims management at Old Mutual Group Assurance, said: “A simple email campaign can help raise awareness around how easily mental illness can be overlooked.
“For example messages such as ‘Are you struggling to sleep at night?’, ‘Do you constantly feel overwhelmed at work?’ or ‘Do you feel demotivated?’ are all telling questions that can help employees assess whether they need to consult a doctor or wellness professional for assistance.”
Creating an environment in which employees feel comfortable to talk to their managers and co-workers is also crucial in early detection and management, Ramjee said.
“The sooner stress and other mental conditions are detected, the better the outcome. Companies are advised to remain close to their employees by setting up regular check-ins or informal meetings to help with early detection.”
Furthermore, Ramjee stressed that for these solutions to be effective, employers needed to educate themselves about the many forms mental illness can take so that they are able to recognise when and how their employees may be suffering.
However, she warned employers about blurring the lines between the role of an employer and health care professional. “Certain situations require the services of a qualified health professional, such as an occupational therapist or psychiatrist, who is better equipped to advise both the employer and employee on how to deal with the problem.”
There should be no shame attached to having a mental illness, Ramjee said, adding that the more the illness is destigmatised and understood, the greater the chances of keeping a workplace healthy and productive.