5 ways to deal with mental illness in the workplace


A recent report released by SADAG (The South African Depression and Anxiety Group) revealed that more than 80% of workers diagnosed with depression kept on working during their last depressive episode.

Effectively dealing with mental illness in the workplace is not only beneficial to the worker, but also to the employer. As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close we look at five ways to deal with mental illness in the workplace.

Read: Should you tell your boss about your mental illness?

1. Discuss the impact on your productivity

If you decide to disclose a mental illness, you should always discuss the impact on your productivity, says Prof Christoffel Grobler from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. “Also involve your psychiatrist, psychologist or occupational therapist to engage your employer.”

2. Be careful what you share with colleagues

You should deal with this on a case-by-case basis, but you are not required to discuss your mental illness with your colleagues, says Lutgen Terblanche, an executive healthcare consultant at the Independent Counselling and Advisory Services of South Africa. “It depends on the team, culture and knowledge of the company you work for. One must be careful not to end up stigmatising the illness yourself or appearing to be fixated on your own illness,” she advices.  

3. Don’t take too much sick leave

Dealing with a mental illness can sometimes feel overwhelming and you might feel the need to take extended sick leave. This is, however, not a good idea, says Grobler. “Under certain circumstances a few days sick leave may be required to adapt to medication or for hospitalisation, but sick leave for more than three to five days can make the problem worse. There is overwhelming evidence that work is good for health and an early return to work is an essential component of recovery.”

Read: South Africa struggles to manage mental illness

4. Educate your employer

Many employers are not aware of the different mental health disorders and what each one entails. Marlize Watermeyer, an occupational therapist in private practice in Port Elizabeth believes it’s essential to remove the stigma around mental illness. “This can be done through education and training of line managers in order to understand the conditions, how they can identify issues, what they can do to support the employee and what support structures are available to the employee.”

5. Get support

You might feel alone and isolated in the workplace, but bigger companies have employee wellness programmes and occupational practitioners on site to help you deal with a mental illness. If your workplace does not have support, it would be wise to discuss the issues HR,” says Terblanche. “They can action the necessary sensitivity and support programmes. Involving colleagues into a support structure can emotionally exhaust them, reduce productivity and lead to the impression of not being gainfully participating in your core duties.”

Read more:

The stigma of mental illness

Stigma keeps employees from revealing mental illness

Mental illness costs 'overwhelming'

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