4 July 2023 | 13:48 CAT
3 min read
The week of 3 July is mental health awareness week in South Africa. It has been estimated that mental health conditions cost the South African economy R161 billion per annum because of premature mortality, lost days of work and being at work but unwell.
South Africa scored the lowest average of 34 countries on the mental health well-being scale, as the Mental State of the World in 2022 report indicates.
In an interview on Radio Islam International, Professor Renata Schoeman, Head of Healthcare Leadership at Stellenbosch Business School, discussed mental health in South Africa. The discussion focused on the country’s medical treatment challenges, the need for preventative measures, and the importance of addressing the stigma associated with mental health difficulties.
It was noted during the discussion that although the mental state of South Africans is concerning, other nations may be facing worse conditions.
“Many other countries are most likely doing worse than South Africa.
But in this specific country, we are compared to some of our peers,” Schoeman said.
After that, the conversation focused on South Africans’ challenges regarding medical treatment, socioeconomic factors, and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Schoeman stated that it is not the sole responsibility of the government to address these issues and that individuals and organisations must take an active role in maintaining a happy, healthy, and engaged workforce. The importance of treating all individuals, including those from other countries, with care and respect was emphasised during the conversation.
Regarding identifying mental health issues, Professor Schoeman clarified that while everyone has difficult days or moments of sadness, sustained depressed moods, loss of interest and drive, and negative thoughts can indicate conditions such as depression.
In such cases, seeking help and support is crucial, and individuals should not dismiss their emotions as normal. It was recommended that trusted colleagues or family members be contacted as a first step.
One of the major challenges identified during the interview was the lack of awareness about available support programs. Professor Schoeman reported from a study that 42% of people were aware of the resources offered at work, and only 8% of those utilised the programs due to concerns of being labelled or stigmatised. This highlights the need for employers to communicate available resources and create a safe, supportive, proactive environment for employees to seek help.
As South Africa observes mental health week, prioritising mental health in the workplace is underscored. Organisations can reduce unhappiness and unproductivity by attending to employees’ emotional well-being, leading to lower staff turnover, reduced conflict, and increased job contentment.
The interview with Professor Renata Schoeman serves as a reminder that the mental health challenges in South Africa are multi-faceted, requiring collective action from individuals, organisations, and the government. By working together to address these issues, South Africa can strive towards a healthier and more resilient society.
Listen to the full interview with Yusuf Moosagie on Sabahul Muslim here.