One in four employees has been diagnosed with depression, and the country’s economic contributors aged 25 to 44 are most affected, taking more than 18 days off work due to the condition. The biggest work-related challenges faced by those suffering from depression are the non-disclosure of depression. The reason for sick leave was predominantly due to stigma and fear of not being able to secure their employment.
With more than 40% of all work-related illness is due to work-related stress, major depression, burnout and anxiety disorders, companies need to realise the significance their structure, expectations of employees and management style has on the company’s annual turn-over, overall productivity and the risk of employees developing health problems that could prevent them temporarily or permanently reentering the workforce.
Undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions directly impacts a workplace through increased absenteeism and presenteeism (attending work while unwell), reduces productivity and increases costs. Most employers tend to completely underestimate the financial impact of mental illness on their bottom line.
Depression costs South Africa more than R232 billion or 5.7% of the country’s GDP due to lost productivity either due to absence from work or attending work whilst unwell.
The cognitive symptoms of depression, such as difficulties in concentrating, making decisions and remembering, are present 94% of the time during an episode of depression. Since leaders find themselves in roles of decision-making and responsibility, they are more prone to presenteeism. They would be less able to cope with the demands of their position and as a leader their condition whilst at work would have a major impact on inter-office relationships, decision-making and their ability to manage their teams.
It’s imperative that companies come to understand the leading role they play in alleviating and eradicating possible stressors at work. They should foster a healthy educational environment with pro-active mental health awareness programmes, stress management training, access to services which nurture help-seeking behaviour, implement a coaching or counseling programme, identify people in need of care and offer them resources to ensure they receive proper treatment. But most importantly they need to break the negative association with depression, burnout and anxiety.
Although policies and guidelines are necessary it alone will not make a difference but requires a supportive culture of understanding and acceptance.
Stigma, born out of ignorance, prejudice or fear, is a major problem in the work place creating a situation where employees choose to rather suffer in silence. One can understand their reluctance to seek support or report their condition, especially in the current economic climate where they might fear losing their job. As a result mental health problems often go undiagnosed and untreated, not only to the detriment of the individual’s career and health but also directly impacting the workplace’s bottom line.
Mental health awareness in the work place will ensure early identification and treatment of disorders, prevent recurrence and long-term complications. By implementing employee assistance programmes the quality of life of employees and the longevity of the company will see a lesser loss to the country’s GDP and prevent disorders turning into permanent disability.
Dr Renata Schoeman is a leadership lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and psychiatrist.