Business leaders are being urged to take the issue of mental health among workers within their organisations seriously, as failure to do so could result in dejected employees and ultimately affect their companies’ bottom line significantly.
The warning has come from Professor Dwayne Devonish, Lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, who suggested that companies should allow staff to have “mental health days” as a way of helping them to cope.
“I would be happy to see this formalise in our society – a mental health day. But even outside of that, there is nothing [stopping] businesses from taking an informal expression for employees to engage in a mental health day. It doesn’t have to be policy, it can be something quite informal,” he said.
“You would be surprised at the kind of benefits that your employees can gain from just taking a few mental health days in a month.”
Additionally, the organisational behaviour specialist said he believed the same level of attention being given to non-communicable diseases should be given to mental health challenges.
He said it was important for Barbadians and others in the region to be educated on the importance of good mental health “and why it should receive the same level of attention that we have given so many of those other conditions, whether they are communicable conditions like the COVID-19 pandemic or the monkeypox, but even the other physical non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes”.
He was addressing the Small Business Association (SBA) members’ information webinar on Thursday, which forms part of the body’s ongoing education series. The theme for this month was Taking Care of Your Mental Health – Implications for the Bottom Line.
Devonish said that based on research out of the United Kingdom and Canada, there was evidence that mental health has a “significant cost burden” to companies.
“Many employers, whether you are small, medium or large, they are not in tune or sufficiently literate to understand the impact of mental health on their businesses and, of course, on their bottom line,” he said.
“A working survey of mental health on COVID-19 in the Caribbean region revealed that 30 per cent of working respondents, whether they were self-employed or engaged to some enterprise, believed that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health, and the costs were both monetary and non-monetary.”
Devonish added that a UK statistic from 2015 indicated that one in six workers will display some form of mental health problem at work; while in Canada, one in five individuals meets the criteria for developing some form of mental illness, with women at a higher risk.
“So, we have evidence to suggest internationally the significant cost impact that mental health challenges have actually brought to the forefront for many organisations, and I don’t think it is going to be any different for the Caribbean,” Devonish said.
Explaining the difference between mental health and mental illness, he said: “Mental health essentially represents our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It concerns how we think, how we feel, and how we behave. All of us have some level of mental health all of the time. Like physical health, it can fluctuate.
“A mental illness, on the other hand, is a recognised medical diagnosable illness that results in significant impairment of one’s mental health. So even though all of us have some level of mental health, not all of us have a mental illness.”
Devonish encouraged bosses to learn the signs associated with mental health challenges by being more vigilant, developing trust with staff, providing channels for employees to vent or talk to their supervisors or co-workers, seeking support where possible, and facilitating access to professional mental health support and assistance programmes.
He also urged business leaders not to be judgmental and to listen to their workers.
At the same time, Devonish urged them to take care of their own mental health by keeping their hours in check, joining networks that leverage mental health services and finding mentors, as he called on workers struggling with mental health issues to seek support, join positive social media and other groups, and take time for self-care. [email protected]