10 October is commemorated around the world as Mental Health Day, and this year the SA Federation for Mental Health is focusing on Mental Health in the Workplace. A great deal of research has been done to show the negative impacts that mental health problems have on the South African as well as Global economy. However, it is important that we also focus on the negative effect that discrimination and abuse of people with mental health problems in the workplace can have on individuals.

A recent study by the United Kingdom based organisation Business in the Community (BITC), found that among UK based employees who had disclosed mental health issues to an employer, 15% faced dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion. This could mean as many as 1.2 million people are negatively affected for disclosing mental health problems. While no similar studies have as yet been in South Africa, statistics such as these show the potentially negative effects that mental health care users face in the workplace.

It is the responsibility of organisations and employers to create a workplace culture that is accepting of persons with mental health conditions, and to protect the rights of persons with mental health conditions and mental disabilities. Employers have the opportunity to change the climate of fear regarding mental health in the workplace and become agents of change. By addressing mental health problems in the workplace and investing in mental health care for workers, employers can increase productivity and employee retention. Untreated mental disorders in employees can result in diminished productivity at work, reduced rates of labour participation, foregone tax based income, increase in workplace accidents, and higher staff turnover.

There are a number of steps that organisations can take to support their employee’s mental health; the risk factors for stress in the workplace can be modified, and an organisational climate that promotes wellbeing and creativity can be developed by targeting workplace policies as well as the needs of individual employees. Similarly, effective treatments exist for common mental disorders, and an employer can facilitate access to care to those who may need it.

On the 10th of October SAFMH will be partnering with the South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC) to empower and educate SABC staff on how to protect and maintain their mental wellbeing, as well as what the rights of people with mental disabilities in the workplace are. In the same way SAFMH would like to encourage all organisations to prioritise the mental health of their staff, not just on the 10th of October, but throughout the year.


Marthé Kotze

Programme Manager: Information & Awareness

SA Federation for Mental Health


011 781 1852

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