Mental health affects safety!

For some time now, I’ve been wanting to write about mental health – a condition that affects so many lives

Some case studies on workplace accidents that result in serious injuries or fatalities have clear signs of deliberate, self-inflicted harm. Globally, more than 300-million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety.

In 2017, a survey by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) revealed that only one in six employees with mental illness said they felt comfortable disclosing the condition to a manager.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a suicide occurs every 40 seconds and an attempt is made every three seconds. On average, 23 South Africans successfully commit suicide daily and another 460 attempt to take their own lives. Hanging is the most frequently employed method of suicide, followed by shooting, gassing and burning.

Risk factors for suicide among the young include the presence of mental illness – especially depression; conduct disorder; alcohol and drug abuse; previous suicide attempts; and the availability of firearms in the home.

Responsibility for promoting mental health and preventing mental disorders extends across all sectors of society. Poor mental health is strongly influenced by a range of social and economic determinants including income level, employment status, education level, material standard of living, physical health status, family cohesion, discrimination, violations of human rights and exposure to adverse life events, including sexual violence, child abuse and neglect.

The vision of the WHO Mental Health Action Plan is a world in which mental health is valued, promoted and protected. People with mental-health disorders should be given timely access to high-quality, culturally appropriate health and social care to promote recovery, in order to attain the highest possible level of health. This should enable them to participate fully in society and at work, free from stigmatisation and discrimination.

People with mental disorders experience disproportionately higher rates of disability and mortality. For example, major depressives and schizophrenics have a 40- to 60-percent greater chance of dying prematurely, owing to physical health problems that are often left unattended – such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and HIV/Aids – or through suicide.

A healthy workplace is one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all employees. A recent guide from the World Economic Forum suggests that interventions should take a three-pronged approach:

• Protect mental health by reducing work-related risk factors;

• Promote mental health by developing positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees; and

• Address mental health problems regardless of cause.

The guide highlights steps that organisations can take to create a healthy workplace, among them:

• Implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices;

• Informing staff that support is available;

• Involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation;

• Introducing organisational practices that support a healthy work-life balance;

• Initiating programmes for career development of employees; and

• Recognising and rewarding the contributions of employees.

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. I truly hope that leadership in the public and private sectors collaborate and implement measures aimed at addressing workplace mental health.

In the coming the months, greater collaboration will take place between Saiosh and IOSH United Kingdom to support each other’s campaigns – among them mental health awareness.

Published by

Sanjay Munnoo

Dr Sanjay Munnoo is a fellow chartered member and President of Saiosh. He is the chief business development officer at FEM and graduated with a PhD in Construction Management from Nelson Mandela University.
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