Holistic wellness programmes have an important role to play in the workplace, and employers play a significant role in offering such programmes.
Shocking statistics released in late 2017 showed that depression (circa 2016) was costing South African business more than R232 billion – either due to absence from work or attending work while unwell (the latter being a phenomenon sometimes called ‘presenteeism’ as opposed to absenteeism). This was according to the IDEA study of the London School of Economics and Political Science. A statement released by the chairperson of the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG), Dr Sebolelo Seape, in 2017 noted that more than 9.7 percent of the South African population (4.5 million) was suffering from depression.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) has also previously released statistics suggesting that up to a quarter of the South African workforce will suffer from mental health illnesses at some point in their career. The organisation surveyed more than 1,000 employees and found that, on average, depressed workers took 18 days of sick leave annually because of their condition.
“These are frightening numbers,” says Sven Smit, Event Director at Specialised Exhibitions Montgomery, “and the topic of mental health in the workplace is accordingly given attention at the annual A-OSH EXPO, Africa’s leading occupational health and safety (OHS) trade exhibition. Optimising mental health at work is part of the suite of holistic wellness programmes offered by one of our sponsors, Health|Insite, which will again be managing the Occu|Fit Wellness Zone feature area at this year’s A-OSH EXPO. Occu|Fit forms the Integrated Occupational Health and SHE (safety, health and environmental) Management Service arm of the Health|Insite Group of Companies.”
Health|Insite provides holistic wellness services to over 550 employer groups, impacting on more than one million lives on a monthly basis.
Dr Jedd Myers, COO for the Health|Insite Group of Companies, says, “Mental health comprises an important part of a healthy and productive employee. The old notion of an isolated ‘tears, tissues approach’, which formed part of an outdated EAP (employee assistance programme) model, is no longer relevant in today’s work context and culture. Health|Insite’s physical health and wellness platform e|Care, which forms part of a broader integrated EWP (employee wellness programme), focuses on a holistic proactive approach to employee health and wellness. The platform pushes out personalised, risk-matched and interest-matched information from credible sources to each individual employee, allowing them to take control and manage their own health and wellness journey.”
According to psychiatrist Frans Korb, a Sadag board member, the negative effect of depression on the workplace is “higher than any other chronic mental and physical disorder”. Korb notes that depression presenteeism had a five times greater counteractive effect than being absent from work, and that depression affects cognitive functioning such as decision-making, memory and problem-solving.
It can thus clearly be seen how mental illness in the workplace leads to decreased productivity, increased sick-related absenteeism, poor work quality, wasted materials and even compromised workplace safety.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that depression will be the second highest cause of morbidity in the world by 2020, and it advises that a proactive approach for managing mental illness in the workplace is essential. Writing on a Sadag blog, Dr Ali Hamdulay notes the potential effectiveness of proactively addressing the mental and emotional health of employees when companies establish specific programmes to manage depression, bipolar disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse amongst employees.
“The valuable impact of wellness programmes in the workplace cannot be under-estimated. Programmes promoting exercise, counselling or financial management can help prevent illnesses, including mental stress, and reduce the impact of long-term conditions. The end result is a positive impact on people’s lives in a holistic fashion, which, ultimately, will include productivity and benefit the caring employer that chose to implement the wellness programme in the first place. It is a win-win for all,” concludes Smit.