I am a new manager. How do I create a workplace that values mental health?
Firstly, congratulations on your appointment as a manager, but more importantly on your recognition of the fact that mental health is a critical component of success in the workplace.
It is estimated that countries lose as much as 5 percent of their GDP to poor mental health practices, and equally significant is the fact that it was shown in Kenya last year that investing in mental health could lead to great savings in the long run.
The Taskforce on mental health had, two years earlier established the fact that Kenya has a high burden of mental disorders, and that this burden is not reciprocated by the resources invested in mental healthcare.
The investment case report for mental health was categorical that returns would be in billions of shillings in savings.
This, however, is not your question. You seek to know what you can do to assist you in the promotion of mental health literacy within your workforce and following on to an improvement in healthy patterns of behaviour among your staff.
A good starting point is to acknowledge that your intentions are correct and that there is much evidence in support of your intended approach. A well-known example will make this point.
Following the declaration of HIV as a national disaster in the 90s, Kenya was successful in reducing the prevalence of the condition by getting the largest possible number of Kenyans to learn as much as possible about HIV/Aids.
What became clear over the following years is what we all instinctively knew, which is that knowledge is power.
The more people knew the more empowered they became, and the subsequent result was stigma reduction.
With respect to your new role, we would urge you to follow a similar template. The first step would be to get as many people in the organisation as possible to arm themselves with as much relevant information as possible.
It might surprise you to know that there are several organisations in Kenya that run programmes specifically on mental health and wellness promotion.
I would suggest you get in touch with one to help you understand what is on offer. You might surprise yourself with the depth and breadth of information available.
In addition, it would be right to ensure that before implementing any programme, you have obtained the approval and support of your board because not all boards are as enlightened on mental health as you clearly are.
Of equal importance is to get your staff to understand that mental health promotion at work is not evidence that they have mental health “problems”.
This is a misconception that often leads to resistance to the kind of programme you have in mind.
In this regard, it is worthwhile to remember that up to 20 percent of the workforce under you will need some form of mental health support sooner or later.
On a positive note, remember that having a job is itself protective against developing some mental disorders by giving one a sense of belonging and self-worth.
Just like we wash our hands before meals and after using the toilet to prevent the spread of germs, there are similar “hygiene” strategies in mental health practice.
Examples of such measures include ensuring that one has adequate sleep, avoidance of excess alcohol use as well as regular exercise.
Talking about mental health at the workplace and putting in place Employee Assistance Programmes are other things you might consider in your new role.
In time, you might plan to have an antibullying policy at work as well as a system of monitoring common and preventable conditions such as burnout.
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