When institutions fail. Mental health in the workplace
The death of renowned cardiologist and researcher Professor Bongani Mayosi sent shockwaves across the continent and the world over. An inspirational and revolutionary figure, Professor Mayosi passed away on the 27th of July 2018, after a two-year struggle with depression. His death was described by His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa as “a loss not only to his family but to the country as a whole.” And indeed it is.
Professor Bongani Mayosi was highly accomplished. His involvement in arguably the largest African-led clinical trial with minimal funding changed how Tuberculosis Pericarditis (a condition prevalent in HIV patients) is treated. However, his untimely death could lead to yet another change, how we manage mental health in the workplace.
Depression in the South African workplace: what we know
A 2016 study published in the South African Journal of Psychiatry investigating the impact of depression on the work place, concluded that support and policies related to mental health (specifically depression) are grossly weak. It also found that at least one out of every four employees that took part in the study had previously been diagnosed with depression and that those most affected were between the ages of 25 to 44 years old.
Other important findings spoke to stigma and its crippling effect on the workplace. For instance, non-disclosure of depression as the reason for sick leave was overwhelming due to fear of how the employee would be regarded by their employers and peers. Perhaps even more worrying, the study found that most managers [who are custodians of the workplace] do not feel well equipped to manage employees diagnosed with depression or let alone confront issues of mental health: “There appears to be a surprising lack of awareness of depression and its consequences in the workplace”, writes the investigator. We run the risk of losing productivity and in the most unfortunate cases, lives, when we poorly manage mental health in the workplace.
These possible loses mean that this is not solely a health issue but a societal one, calling for everyone’s involvement (government, communities, employees and employers, the list is endless). With that in mind, did we fail, professor Mayosi?
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