Workplace depression costs SA billions

Sebolelo Seape, chairperson of the Psychiatry Management Group says organisations and individuals need to become more aware of the reality and impact of mental health on the workplace.


Depression costs the country more than R232 billion or 5,7 percent of the country’s GDP due to lost productivity, according to a 2016 study by IDEA London, a London-based post-accelerator centre.

The study also suggests that the loss in productivity is either as a result of absence from work or the attendance of work whilst unwell.

However, in light of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, Sebolelo Seape, chairperson of the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG) said organisations and individuals need to become more aware of the reality and impact of mental health in the workplace.

“With more than 9,7 percent (4,5 million) of the South African population suffering from depression, the chances are quite real that the person sitting next to you in the office is at some stage in their lives coping with the condition,” said Seape.

“It’s not only the duty of the individuals suffering from mental health issues but also [that of] organisations and colleagues to fight the stigma. Depression causes problems with memory [and leads to] procrastination, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, fear and panic; which will add to work-related stresses and cripple the output from the employee.

“Even those who take a sick day here and there because they are not mentally up for it, are in essence self-diagnosing and their perceived coping mechanism will draw negative attention. In addition, they could be losing out on the support structure offered by their employer, putting their career and relationship with colleagues at risk.”

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. An employer, therefore, cannot demote or transfer a person or reduce a salary because of a mental health condition.

“It is up to the employer, therefore, to decide how serious the condition is to warrant any form of accommodation. And although the law can legislate against discrimination it cannot against stigma. Many who suffer from depression fear that the disclosure of their condition makes them vulnerable and that they may lose their jobs or be the first to be selected during times of restructuring or retrenchment. This is stigma and a culture that can only be changed within an organisation, not enforced by the law.”

In conclusion, Seape said workplace attitudes which promote acceptance and openness about depression would have a significant impact on improving workplace productivity.

“If depression is continuously seen as a weakness and something that people make up to receive special treatment or paid days off work, or those suffering fear for their jobs, then neither the stigma associated with depression nor the lack of productivity and loss in revenue will change.”


Related articles:

South African Depression and Anxiety Group offers free support groups in Rosebank

#WorldMentalHealthDay: Don’t underestimate your mental well-being

Taming the black dog of depression


Have you suffered from workplace depression? Tell us how you dealt with it on our Facebook page

Tshepiso Mametela

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