TACKLING WORKPLACE MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES

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Bilikis Ogunnubi

Life is full of challenges. The challenges that some take in their strides might weigh others down. The inability of many to cope with the hassles of life often result in mental health challenges.

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

A recent study, titled “The 2019 Nigeria Workplace Mental Health Survey”, conducted by WellNewMe, a human capital advisory company that advises business leaders and governments on strategies to improve the health outcomes of their people, shows that 79% of employees surveyed were at an increased risk for mental health issues.

The survey was carried out on over 6,800 employees between the ages of 20-60, from across Nigeria, on a wide variety of mental health issues. And it was found out that the mental health challenges discovered in more than half of these employees were due to insomnia(lack of sleep), with women slightly more than men in not getting enough sleep.

Also, more than a fifth of the employees are at an increased risk of having mental health challenges due to financial worries, as they had borrowed twice or more over six months before the survey was taken.

The survey further indicated that one in 12 employees are at risk of developing depression; four in 10 employees lack adequate emotional and social support; one in three at risk of inability to cope with stress; and one in three employees at risk from workplace stress.

Mental health challenges can be in form of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders, impulse control and addiction disorders, personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders and stress response syndromes among others.

Although, anxiety is a normal emotion experienced by all but when it interferes with normal functioning and an individual’s appropriate response to situation it becomes a problem. In the workplace, anxiety is the stress caused by work which can have negative effects and must be addressed to prevent poor outcomes for the employee and the employer.

In the case of mood disorders also referred to as affective disorders, it involves persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. Examples of this are depression and bipolar disorder.

Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Hallucination and delusion are common symptoms. People who are unable to resist urges or impulses to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others are said to be suffering from impulse control and addiction disorders. Pyromania (starting fire), kleptomania (stealing) and compulsive gambling are examples of such acts while alcohol and hard drugs are common objects of addiction.

However, psychiatrists say the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in Nigeria are mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. People who suffer from depression often experience long term feelings of sadness, emptiness and worthlessness, a low sense of self- esteem and suicidal thoughts. These can cause the individual to become alienated from their peers because of perceived unattractive personality traits or behaviours.

Causes of mental health challenges are plethora, but the common ones are: Gene and family history; life experiences, such as stress or a history of abuse, especially if they happen during childhood; or marital turbulence; biological factors such as chemical imbalance in the brain; traumatic brain injury; a mother’s exposure to viruses or toxic chemicals, while pregnant and drug and substance abuse/addiction among others.

While some mental illnesses develop seemingly organically, others may be induced by trauma or chemical experimentation. Psychoactive substance abuse among adolescents and youths is prevalent – cannabis, tranquilizers, cocaine and inhalants are some of the most commonly abused substances, and it accounts for around 10% of cases treated in all mental health facilities, making substance abuse one of the leading cause of mental disorders among youths between the ages of 18 and 25. This can be hard to reconcile with the commonly-held African myth that young people and children do not suffer from mental health illnesses.

Children and young adults do suffer from mental health disorders that can severely disrupt their ability to function at home, in school, and in the community. Studies have shown that mental health challenges manifest in 1 out of 5 children and adolescents in schools, including primary and high schools, as well as universities and other higher institutions

In the work place, a negative and poor working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and loss of productivity. Workplace anxiety is one of the commonest forms of mental challenges employees are usually being exposed to.

Workplace anxiety is the stress caused by work. It can be caused by dealing with work conflicts, having a demanding boss/supervisor, a heavy workload and a lack of direction on tasks. Others include, low reward or reinforcements, relationship with co-workers and lack of perception of fairness.

An employee with this mental disorder presents with excessive or irrational worrying, trouble falling asleep, exaggerated startled reaction, tiredness or fatigue as well as absenteeism and inability to concentrate or complete tasks.

In dealing with workplace anxiety and other mental health challenges, workplaces must be seen to promote mental and support people with mental disorders.

In order to promote good mental health among its work force, the Lagos State Government came up with the idea of LASWELL, an acronym for the Lagos State Employee Wellness Centre. The centre, established to provide services that ensure the mental wellness of staff of the Lagos State Government, is also designed to recognise the differences in symptoms of mental health challenges in individuals and offer care at multiple levels.

The centre offers early intervention and prevention, outpatient counseling and assessment, holistic intervention, evidence based treatment programs as well as referral to specialist inpatient and residential care.

Without a doubt, such commitment to the provision of social support infrastructure on the part of the government towards ensuring the emotional stability of its workforce would go a long way, not only in boosting their well-being as well as enhancing their productivity.

Ogunnubi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

 

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