October is Mental Health Awareness Month

Creating an environment of trust and acceptance within the workplace.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, Corporate Training and Development company Grow Right Edge Solutions, is urging corporate South Africa to nurture a culture of acceptance and trust when it comes to mental health, and to help fight the stigma associated with it.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in four people globally will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of disability worldwide.

Furthermore, the latest statistics coming out of the National Centre for Learning disabilities in the United States includes that one in five children have learning and attention issues such as dyslexia and ADHD. Learning disabilities are on the rise in South Africa too.

“Individuals with mental health issues as well as their colleagues and the organisations where they work need to become more aware of the impact of mental health, be open to understanding and learning about it and help to destigmatise it,” says founder and Grow Right CEO Michelina De Benedictis.

According to the results of a study published last year, life expectancy in the United States has declined for three years running, with drug overdoses, suicides, alcohol-related illnesses and obesity being largely to blame. With substance abuse and mental illness being very interrelated, this snapshot of a nation’s overall health is particularly alarming considering that the conditions causing this decrease in life expectancy are largely preventable and treatable.

In South Africa, depression has been cited as our number one cause of disability, a largely unseen disability in the workplace but one that can and should be managed and supported.

It is important to realise that mental illness affects people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, income groups and education levels, from the CEO of a multinational corporation to the person in a call centre. Mental illness does not discriminate, and neither should we.

The law in South Africa states that an employee with a mental health condition has a constitutional right to equality, human dignity, reasonable accommodation and fair labour practice. The Employment Equity Act protects employees in the workplace to a certain extent, but when it comes to an “invisible disability” such as a mental health disorder, a culture of acceptance and understanding is often lacking.

How does one ensure a corporate culture of trust and inclusivity whereby your employees are comfortable disclosing their mental health issues?

“The disability group is the largest minority that we currently have,” Michelina says.

“There are a lot of challenges for these individuals to access employment opportunities and again it stems from inclusion and buy-in from the workplace, which includes companies being open to employ people with both “soft” disabilities as well as those with physical and mental disabilities,”

“Concerns about the effect this individual with mental illness might have on the workplace and on their colleagues is not uncommon. This creates a snowball effect whereby people do not feel comfortable disclosing their disabilities. Mental health has such as stigma associated with it, which is something that needs to be addressed,” she says. “More needs to be done to normalize disability within the workplace”.

Through their mental wellness and disability sensitization programmes, Grow Right endeavors to debunk this stigma, by encouraging the adoption of an environment in which employees feel comfortable disclosing their disabilities.

As much as upper management and HR have a major role to play, so too do all employees in an organization. “This also cannot be achieved through a once-off workshop. It has to be an ongoing process and needs to be driven from the bottom up and top down,” Michelina says.

Because mental health issues can, and do, affect people at different levels within companies, it is important that as many people as possible are exposed to these types of programmes.

But this requires a level of commitment, hard work and time, which is why it is not always adopted as a priority.

“At Grow Right, we understand from a compliance perspective how challenging it can be, how difficult it can be to integrate and the effort and time it takes, but once you set these things up, and a culture of acceptance and inclusivity is developed, its only downhill from there”

Flexi-time, a quiet office space and reduction in workload or increased support are some of the ways employers can assist their staff with mental health issues.

This Mental Health Awareness Month be an ambassador for inclusion in the workplace. It starts with you!

Creating meaningful impact and changing lives is what Corporate Training and Development company Grow Right Edge Solutions is all about.  With over 10 years hands on experience in the Training and Development Industry, Grow Right Edge Solutions was created with a passion to transform and drive the Economy of tomorrow. Everything they do is based on the principles of Engage, Develop, Grow and Empower, giving them the real “EDGE”.

Go to http://growright.co.za/ or email them at engage@growright.co.za to find out more about their Disability Awareness and Sensitisation Workshops, which includes sensitising employees towards acceptance and debunking the myths that might exist about employees with disabilities.



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