Feature: There Is No Health without Mental Health

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There are some days when the thought of going to work – spending the day with phones that ring incessantly, demanding customers or ever increasing deadlines ??? leads to stress, fatigue, even fear; this, ultimately, then leads to taking a day away from the office. It is often referred to as a ???mental health day???, and ironically, feelings such as anxiety and depression are considered common mental health disorders.

Addiction Mental Health Consultant, Anthony Gooding, shared some truths about how one???s mental state affects ??? and is affected by ??? the workplace, during one of the seminar sessions for Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Week, held at Accra Beach Hotel last Tuesday.

???The psychological workplace is important???If you don???t understand what is happening to you, you can???t give of your best. This is why we get absenteeism???Most of the issues associated with absenteeism are primarily associated with the psychological workplace???bank issues, can???t pay your car loan, all of these things impact on your mental health,??? he stressed.

Mr. Gooding observed that enough attention was not being paid to the connection between safety, health and wellness at work and mental health. In fact, he said, mental health issues were often seen as a joke. However, the Consultant was quick to point out that mental health was no laughing matter.
“Everybody???s mental health [model] is Ninja Man by the Treasury Building???But one in five people in the world will have a mental health problem by the year 2020 and that is projected by the World Health Organization???

Can you really afford to judge? You can???t, because it might very well be you???It has nothing to do with someone running down the street with a ???collins??? who is schizophrenic; mental health is an aspect of your health,” he stated.

Mr. Gooding offered the World Health Organization???s definition of mental health and mental state. The former described as a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, including fulfilling relationships with other people and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity specific to the individual’s culture; while one???s mental state consists of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, cognitions and behaviours.

He pointed out that ???disturbances in any of these areas can be [a sign of] a mental health problem. To be anxious, to know that tomorrow you???ve been promoted and you???ll be the person who will be looking after all of the people who used to be friends…this, in itself, could lead to depression…

???One of the real problems that we have is that we recruit people not understanding that we must understand the people we recruit. We bring them in and we give them a desk, a computer and say, that’s your station. We don’t know if that woman just had a baby and has post partum depression. We don’t know if that guy???has bipolar disorder???No one wants to talk about mental health,” he said.

Noting that Barbadians needed to learn more about legislation which speaks to mental health, such as the Safety and Health at Work Act, the Employment Rights Act and the Barbados Mental Health Act, Mr. Gooding observed that there was an irrational fear of mental illness, ???but research shows that a lot of people recover???and lead stable lives???.

Pointing to legislation which addresses mental health and work in the developed world, Mr. Gooding said a mental health injury as a result of work was treated similarly as a person being physically injured. ???Employers need to begin to understand these things???Psychological hazards are very important,??? he stated, adding that these hazards included occupational stress, workplace harassment, occupational violence and fatigue.

Offering an example of such a precedent, the Mental Health Consultant told the audience about the Helen Green vs. Deustche Bank in London case, where the plaintiff was bullied at work by her colleagues. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder and the Bank was found guilty of neglecting its duty of care. Ms. Green was awarded 800 000 pounds in damages for harassment in the workplace.

Acknowledging that a psychiatric injury had to be diagnosed by a professional and persons were reluctant to see a psychiatrist because they didn???t want to be seen as crazy, he stressed: ???We have to start to embrace mental health???It will happen in the workplace, issues will be brought to the work place and we’ll have to understand how all these things will impact the workplace,” he stressed.

Stressful work environments, Mr. Gooding said, were created due to both personal interaction and the physical plant as well. He observed that ???where people work in heavy industry, with a lot of noise, it is quite likely that it could affect their psychological health???[as well as] overcrowding, poor ergonomics, insufficient communication [between supervisors and staff]???and unsatisfactory work equipment.???

Mr. Gooding added that changes or transfers in jobs, technology and work systems could also result in stress, but training to aid persons in completing new tasks could assist in employees??? adjustment. In addition, training in mental health would also assist in better identifying and coping with such issues and assessing risk.

Further illustrating that ensuring employees??? wellbeing benefited businesses, he pointed out that poor mental health resulted in indirect costs such as accidents and errors on the job, sick leave and absenteeism. However, taking an interest in employees would see better staff retention, reduced absences and increased productivity.

Mr. Gooding surmised: ???Mental health is a business issue. The economic cost of failure is high; the human cost can be far higher and managers need to understand it???Employers need to invest in stress prevention activities???No matter the size [of your business], you need to protect the mental health of your employees.???

nekaelia.hutchinson@barbados.gov.bb

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