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Our work is a huge part of our everyday lives; so inevitably, it has a direct and crucial effect on our mental health and well-being. A negative work environment or poor work-life balance can be direct causes of many mental health issues or may act as triggers to various mental health disorders, which in turn affect the quality of work and productivity, creating a vicious cycle.

To understand more about the importance of mental health awareness at the workplace, ADA (Anxiety and Depression Association) spoke with Munira Al Shaikh, a Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist, working with a wide range of issues with a special interest in depression, stress, anxiety, anger management, and fertility counseling.

by Hajer Ghareeb
Illustration by Hajer Ghareeb

1. There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health in our society. What can we do to fight this stigma?

Struggling with mental health illnesses very often leads people to withdraw themselves from those around them. When a stigma is present it automatically creates an unhealthy environment that harbors discrimination and hostility. Discrimination whether in the form of harassment and bullying or fueling a force from which negative stereotyping emerges has a detrimental effect on individuals facing mental health difficulties. It compounds their suffering, causing them to isolate themselves further, be reluctant to seek help or can hinder their treatment and recovery.

Tackling mental health stigma is an initiative we are all responsible for regardless of our role in society, whether we are parents, educators or professionals. It begins with instilling and highlighting the importance of values like humanity, compassion, kindness, empathy, respect, and tolerance. It also includes raising awareness and educating people about mental health disorders and striving to change inaccurate perceptions surrounding them. Another way is trying to promote optimal physical-mental health and all-round wellbeing in a way that is relatable to everyone while illustrating how a community team/workplace/friends’ group is at its best when everyone is feeling respected, valued, understood and supported.

On another level, companies can contribute to this initiative by adjusting their company culture. Creating formal programs and campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues and de-stigmatizing the negative perceptions that surround it can achieve this. In addition to drafting policies that support employees who face mental health challenges that allow flexibility and support when required.

2. How do you think employees’ mental health relates to company’s performance?

There is a direct link between employees’ mental health and a company’s performance. A lot of research has been done in this field, demonstrating how unaddressed mental health problems can negatively affect performance and cost the company by depriving both of reaching their full potential. When employees’ mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are left untreated they can very often lead to other psychosomatic health issues which in turn can contribute to various aspects related to the company’s performance. Some of the most common ones include increased absence, lower productivity, poorer decision making, unhealthy psychosocial dynamics all of which can negatively impact the company both professionally and financially.

I have come across many extremely dynamic, creative and capable individuals with so much to offer, but have sadly been held back by lacking to prioritize their emotional and mental needs at times due to the fear and shame the stigma creates. Suppressing these sentiments without addressing them leaves them consumed with their internal challenges, instead of outwardly channeling their energy knowledge and talents to engage and excel.

Whether it is a small team or a big corporation, when people don’t feel supported, understood, and included, it can hinder their performance and productivity.

3. How can an employer or colleagues support an employee suffering from a mental disorder?

A good place to start is by striving to gain a fair understanding of what mental health symptoms are and learn strategies to support people going through it. It is important to create a trusting and supportive work environment where people are aware and empathetic.

If you sense that a colleague or employee around you is going through some difficulties you could reach out to them in confidence and try to gain some insight by asking what is going on with them, what are their triggers allowing them to express how they feel and being supportive they can be best supported. Subsequently, consider accommodating their needs with as much flexibility as possible while ensuring your communication channels are open. This may be achieved by maintaining confidentiality and trust as well as adjusting certain policies and putting into place some sort of a plan to ensure they feel safe and supported within a manageable environment in times of distress.

On a bigger scale, companies could introduce integrated health and wellness programs and initiatives that cultivate a healthier mindset and work environment. These programs can work towards promoting self-care, self-development and a healthy work-life balance. It can also provide access to resources and counselors to support their employees and help them find this balance. This could also work as a channel from which campaigns to eradicate mental health stigma and promote well-being can be launched.

4. How can workplaces reasonably accommodate those with mental health challenges and disorders?

Employers can accommodate those struggling with mental health issues in the workplace by:

- Raising awareness about the importance of mental and physical well-being and highlighting its effects on individuals and the company as a whole. Companies can also support employees and encourage them to seek help, which in itself is a big step for many.

- Training managers to spot early indicators of mental health distress like increased absences, withdrawal, and a change of demeanor. Being able to look out for these signs, which are usually the initial indicators of a cry for help. It’s also important to have people who are trained to intervene at that point and offer the right kind of support and guidance. Respecting confidentiality is also an extremely vital part of the process.

- Being open and flexible to make adjustments and modifications in work patterns, scheduling job duties and workspace as required.

- Promoting a healthier and safer work environment, physically, mentally, emotionally and taking a very holistic approach towards mental health.

ADA

ADA’s (Anxiety & Depression Association) main purpose is to create a safe communal space for collective healing to define and share our experiences in order to connect with our inner-self and one another.

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