About 20 to 30 percentage of employees will suffer from mental ill health or a disorder at some time in their working lives.
This has implications for industry, related to an increase in absenteeism from work. While some people who have mental disorders are present at work, they will not be working to their full capacity, because of the disorder, which thus increases production costs.
These are the remarks of Dr Kathrine Sorsdahl, a public mental health specialist from the University of Cape Town, who spoke on mental health policy in the workplace at a workshop for human resources practitioners in Windhoek.
Sorsdahl explained that causes of mental health problems could be biological, psychological or sociological. She says, for example, one in ten family members will suffer schizophrenia.
Deputy Health Minister Juliet Kavetuna said the reason for focusing on mental health at the workplace is that decent employment dignifies a person.
“When you lose it (employment) you lose absolutely everything. If you are a father of a household and you lose your employment you lose your family and status in the community. At least your job should be secured by having a policy that helps and to protect people in the workplace before we start looking at the community,” remarked Kavetuna, adding that when an individual loses their job all alternatives have usually been exhausted.
She said if there is a policy that makes it conducive for people to talk about mental health problems then self-reporting would be higher. Employers would also know their employees better and would better protect their interests.
Kavetuna explained that the cause of mental illness might not be the same for any two people. “We may have the same condition. For example, we both might have bipolar [disorder], but yours might be triggered by one event, while mine is triggered by a different event. Every situation might be unique on its own and has to be diagnosed and treated as such,” she argued.
However, she said, if a situation of poor mental health is prevalent for many weeks, using an example of a person abandoned by a lover, then something could be wrong.
“Then this has already advanced from a mere disappointment to the level of disorder. So, the earlier we (the affected person, friends, neighbours and family members) intervene, the better. If I see you are depressed for three months, because of a situation that you could have overcome within days or months, then something should be done. The health professionals will only come when you seek help,” she noted.
According to Kavetuna, the good thing is that if detected early mental health problems can be treated, either with psychotherapy or medication.
“There is no health without mental health, because you can be healthy [outwardly], but if your mind is not healthy you are not yet healthy. If we’re saying one out of four people will go through mental illness [at some stage in their lives] it’s a crisis,” opined the deputy health minister.