Mental health in the workplace


According to the 2017 health calendar, October was Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa. The objective of Mental Health Awareness Month is to educate the general public about mental health and to reduce the stigma and discrimination that people with mental illness are often subjected to.

The Department of Health (DOH) focused a lot on mental health in the workplace in their awareness programmes. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse and job stress are examples of mental health problems that people experience in the workplace. These problems can lead to the use of harmful substances and alcohol, absenteeism and reduced productivity. This can affect individuals, their families, their co-workers, and even the broader community.

The DOH found that the content and context of work can cause mental health problems in the workplace. Poor working conditions, poor interpersonal relationships, excessive workload, lack of recognition at work, and poor leadership and communication have been identified as some of the risk factors in the workplace. The World Health Organisation (WHO) points out that harassment and bullying also can have a substantial impact on mental health in the workplace.

While the workplace can cause mental health problems, it can also contribute positively to the mental health of workers. The World Economic Forum suggests that employers take a three-pronged approach to create a positive or healthy workplace: employers should reduce work-related risk factors, develop the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees, and address mental health problems regardless of cause. WHO describes a healthy workplace as “one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all employees”. The DOH points out that mental illness can be treated and even prevented with early detection and early intervention. Unfortunately, most people are embarrassed and unwilling to seek treatment because mental illness is deeply stigmatised in our communities. Without help and treatment, people are unable to live full and happy lives, and they miss out on many opportunities. Mental illness is increasing and as members of a caring community we should strive to show more understanding and support for people with mental illness so that we can manage the impact of mental illness in our communities.

This column provides a brief overview of mental health issues. You can contact your local doctor or mental healthcare provider for more information or support.

You can also contact Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) on tel. 021 422 0357 or online at

Alternatively, you can contact the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) on tel. 011 781 1852 or online at

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