Saturday, Jan 28



When mental health is mentioned, most people automatically think about madness, hallucinations among other severe mental problems. However, anxiety disorders, anorexia nervosa are examples of mental health problems. Stress, on the other hand, is a reaction to events or experiences in one’s home, work-life or a combination of both. Common mental health problems and stress can co-exist independently. People can experience stress and physical changes such as high blood pressure without having anxiety, depression or other mental health problems. One can also have anxiety and depression without experiencing stress. The key difference between them is the cause and the mode of treatment.

Though work is good for us, work-related stress can exacerbate an existing mental health problem, making it more challenging to control. If work-related stress reaches a point where it has elicited an existing mental health problem, it becomes hard to detach one from the other. From research, there are numerous ways corporate workload and work-related stress affect mental health of corporate workers as well as various preemptive steps that can be taken to nip these in the bud but how?

First, there is a need for people to understand what “mental health” is so they can identify and address them as expected.  Mental health thus, is about how we think, feel and behave and the two most common are anxiety and depression.

On the corporate front, job insecurity or fear of losing one's job is one of the major problems people have to deal with. In Ghana, for instance, severe anxiety has been one of the ramifications of the fold-up of banks and some financial institutions. People with anxiety disorders respond to these situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or panic, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. This can easily be identified if workers’ responses are not appropriate for a situation, or cannot control their responses, or if their anxiety interferes with normal functioning, they are probably showing indicators of anxiety disorders.

Depression is a typical example of Mood disorders. Depression in the corporate world usually is as a result of stress emanating from feeling very strongly that one doesn't fit the job they do. Sometimes, the guilt some people (especially parents) feel about abandoning and constantly missing some very important moments with their family and friends while they are at work, can cause some form of guilt which aggravates depression. Continually working overtime can affect one's home life; this poor balance can lead to feelings of depression in many people. If one's needs exceeds their salary, it can cause one to feel stressed and worry, which can also lead to depression. Finally, low morale at work as a result of one's hard work constantly being unacknowledged is a big contributor to work related depression.

Eating disorders include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders. In the corporate world, trying to maintain the corporate look due to the act of body-shaming sometimes puts a lot of pressure on workers making them preoccupied with food, weight, and body shape, as well as caloric restriction. Others also force themselves to purge by self-induced vomiting, resorting to laxatives or exercising excessively.

Antisocial personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder are examples of Personality disorders, albeit being side effects of some traumatic experiences. Issues like body-shaming and lack of confidence can trigger antisocial disorders. Being anxious, depressed or having low self-esteem may more likely result in paranoid thoughts. Constantly worried that an individual want to sabotage one’s work and continually being on edge makes one more likely to interpret things in a negative way. These can make one develop obstinate personality traits that are perturbing to the person and/or cause problems at work. In addition, the person's pattern of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of co-workers and are so rigid that they may interfere with the person's normal functioning.

Other effects mental health problems have on workers are

Lack of confidence in one’s self. One may have a hard time concentrating, learning, or making decisions. Most times if one can’t concentrate they may then also think that they can’t do their job well or worry about losing their jobs and this affects work performance.

In Canada for instance, mental health problems cost employers billions of dollars in absenteeism or sick days, “presenteeism” (coming to work, even when the employee can’t work well), and lost productivity; which of course goes a long way to affect the economy as a whole.

Just as there are factors that cause stress and mental health problems to employees, there also are a lot of factors that causes stress to employers as well which may include: achieving the target of the year, salary payment, and fear of failure or collapse of business amongst others.

People who experience mental health problems may be withdrawn from others and their environment and may act in unexpected ways such as taking a lot of time off, or appear less productive than usual. This can put a strain on relationship with supervisors and co-workers.

Hence, how do we curb or reduce the occurrence of such situations at our workplaces, what can be done individually or as a group to make sure co-workers, employees or employers are in a good mental state at work? For it is only with a sound mind that great ideas are produced.

First of all, we need to be each other's keeper. This may sound like a platitude but it is incredibly helpful. Addressing this individually,

  • When one notices that one is always anxious about going to work, because they are mostly unhappy and tearful at the workplace and finds it difficult to interact with others, then some introspection is needed. 
  • One can talk to someone. Find a person that one is most comfortable around in the office and put in the effort to get one to warm up and open up about their mental health. Talking can help one get one’s problems into perspective; “a problem shared is half solved.” 
  • One can seek help. Look into speaking with a therapist or other professionals about the problems. 
  • Talking to one’s superior is another way to go. Not having the best of relationship with one’s superior can also be stressful. If possible, one could talk to them or find a way of settling issues amicably, they may also like to help in their own way to have a peaceful workplace. 
  • When one is depressed or at the precipice of getting depressed, self-care goes south. Make a conscious effort to eat well, sleep well and take good care of yourself.

Whether work causes the health issue or aggravates it, employers can help their employees. Work-related mental health issues must be evaluated to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a particular risk is recognized, steps must be taken to eradicate it or reduce it as much as sensibly attainable. Some employees may have a pre-existing physical or mental health condition when recruited or may develop one caused by factors outside of work. Irrespective of that, employers can help by: 

  • Organizing and participating in mental health educational programs at work.
  • Promoting communication and open conversations. This can be achieved by raising awareness and unlearning the stigma associated with mental health while providing a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes. 
  • Developing positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees. Addressing mental health problems regardless of cause. 
  • Being aware of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted to promote better mental health for all employees.
  • Learning from the motivation of organizational leaders and employers who have taken action. 
  • Involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation. 
  • Recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees are but few strategies employers can employ to reduce or eliminate mental health problems.

Globally, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression. This goes to show that such conditions exist, are serious and have palpable effects on people. “Having a mental disorder isn’t easy, and it’s even harder when people just assume you can get over it.” -