As awareness about mental illness grows, many workplaces have been making efforts to normalise talking about mental health. But other workplaces have stayed silent on this topic, so employees are left to figure out their options on their own to some extent, while others have resorted to resigning.
Even in workplaces that encourage employees to be open, other co-workers or managers might show bias against those who do disclose a diagnosis.
In my corner, yes my work corner… I’ve made an effort to normalise prioritising my mental health. I have often thought to myself, imagine a workplace with a crying room (not a job-sanctioned one, just a place employees went to cry when the environment wasn’t that inviting or conducive enough). Sometimes we try to smile, but it becomes exhausting very quickly, and doing it all the time leads to an autistic shutdown where you can’t talk, and all you want to do is curl up into a ball and cry for an hour or so. That’s when you wished you had a crying room at work.
Ensuring employees are mentally well is beneficial for a company and for workers, both at work and in all other aspects of their lives. An unpleasant working condition negatively impacts a worker’s mental health.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say mental illnesses affect employees in several ways. Of course, they can negatively alter job performance and productivity, but mental illness also affects an employee’s communication with co-workers, and their physical capability to function daily.
More employees are leaving their jobs for mental health reasons, including those caused by workplace factors like overwhelming, bullying and unsustainable work. I often say a wrong career choice or workplace can affect your state of mind, hence the saying, “when praying for a job, also pray for a conducive environment”.
You may feel you are wasting your life, uncertainty regarding the permanence of your work can make you anxious, being underpaid can make you feel unvalued, a bully culture and favouritism towards others can make you feel unworthy and make the entire workplace toxic for you. Ask yourself if the values of the company for which you work correspond to your own.
How can you protect yourself?
Seek help, whether in the medical field or from a family member. Depression is just as valid a reality as a fractured leg. Remember that your work is just a segment of your being, and by periodically reassessing your relationship with your work, you can find a solution for the mental illness you are suffering from more easily. Set clear boundaries and limitations for yourself. Separate your own values as a human being from your work function and productivity, and how you should be evaluated by others. Don’t lose sight of your unique talents.
Noreen Sitali is an information officer at the National Assembly. The article is written in her personal capacity.