The Silent Scream: mental health awareness in the workplace

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The View From Taft

A pop of paracetamol, a cup of coffee, a puff of smoke, binging on junk food or skipping meals — perhaps a reaction to what a person is feeling and perhaps, too, what can be normal in the workplace.

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Whether office-based or fieldwork, the worker is vulnerable to behavior peculiarities leading to an unhealthy lifestyle or a poor frame of mind. Daily pressure points such as meeting work expectations and performance measures, satisfying demanding customers or bosses, workload overload or overlapping deadlines, shifting or extended work schedules, decision-making, and even commuting to/from work can result in a breakdown.

Dynamics of interactions at work can strongly affect how this worker is holding up. When there are no explicit agitations, no manifestations of anger, no violence captured within work premises or schedules, organizations would normally interpret their workplace to be harmonious and well. Perhaps it can be one indicator but not the sole measure. When one is harassed or bullied it may not be explicit or, worse, may be ingrained in the organization’s culture, especially in the absence of any related policy. Thus, such activities can be perceived as acceptable.

What an individual experiences at work may not resonate with everybody else in the organization. But the health and wellness of one can matter to everyone. The statistics on mental health are alarming. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that:

• 154 million people suffer from depression

• One million from schizophrenia

• 877,000 people die by suicide every year

• 15.3 million persons with drug use disorders

The WHO has officially classified workplace burnout as an occupational phenomenon.

Burnout is a syndrome which results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Mental health is a catch-all term to describe any and all issues that may affect the mind. It includes a variety of mental disorders, addiction, neurologic disorders, and behavioral problems.

The Chief of the Labor and Employment Office of the Bureau of Working Conditions, Dr. Ma. Imelda Santos narrated in an interview with CNN Philippines on May 29 the components of the proposed policy of DOLE on Mental Health in the Workplace.

“…Employers are directed to develop appropriate policies and programs on mental health in the workplace designed to: raise awareness on mental health issues, correct the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions, identify and provide support for individuals at risk, and facilitate access of individuals with mental health conditions to treatment and psychosocial support. [A] Mental Health Program includes capacity building, mental health promotion, and access to services.

“A mental health strategy improves the involvement of the workforce by avoiding psychological unwellness, promoting mental wellness programs, and supporting the people in the organization who are in the state of mental health problem or illness. It is expected that the adoption of workplace mental health promotion programs by more employers can exert a strong influence on improving the holistic health and well-being of workers which could readily translate to productivity. The DOLE shall issue its Mental Health Policy not later than Aug. 19 of this year,” she said.

Given the strong drive of the Government, organizations in different sectors are compelled to promote and ensure mental health in the workplace. Human Resources plays a pivotal role in the implementation of Mental Health awareness, policies and programs for the safety and well-being of all the people in the organization.

Should we all arrive at the same understanding that the organization’s success stems from its productivity, and productivity is the result of each worker’s output, then PEOPLE are the organization’s greatest resource and asset. As such, anything that can nurture all aspects of a person’s development and motivation has to be taken care of, including mental health conditions in the workplace.

Worth considering are the following strategies in promoting Mental Health in the Workplace:

• Encouraging active employee participation and decision making

• Clearly defining employees’ duties and responsibilities

• Campaigning for work-life balance

• Promoting a respectful and professional environment

• Right capacity planning for the employee workload

• Promoting the organization’s support for volunteerism.

• Teaching managers how to support people who are struggling with work/life balance or heightened work demands.

• Training senior staff on the signs and symptoms of mental health problems.

• Encouraging an active lifestyle, providing gym equipment or organizing Zumba and even a quarterly sportsfest.

• Opening the doors of every leader in the organization. Telling everyone that they are not alone, that even the leaders will listen to the lowest rank and file employee.

Let us not be numb to the silent cries in the workplace. Let us listen even if no one screams for help. Inclusion of mental health awareness in the workplace leads not just to strategic HR and success of an organization but more so, it can save a life… as it can also end a life unknowingly.

 

Joey Estevez is an MBA student at De La Salle University’s Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business. This essay was written as part of the requirement in his Strategic Human Resource Management class.

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