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Mental health in the workplace

by Pointe Xpress
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Recently, human resource (HR) practitioners, have been giving more attention to mental health,
particularly in the workplace, and especially since the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic. But has
the number of employees experiencing mental health challenges increased since the pandemic?
Or is it that employees now feel more comfortable reporting their mental health challenges and
are seeking help? HRPAB believes both to be true in Antigua and Barbuda.
We have no local statistical data regarding the number of employees who have sought help for
mental issues but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the
United Sates, “Mental health disorders are among the most burdensome health concerns in the
United States. Nearly one in five US adults (44.7 million people) aged 18 or older reported a
mental illness in 2016. In addition, seventy-one percent of adults reported at least one symptom
of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious.” This number has skyrocketed
since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
The CDC article goes on to report that many people with mental health disorders also need care
for other physical health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illness, and
disorders that affect muscles, bones, and joints. The costs for treating people with both mental
health disorders and other physical conditions are two to three times higher than for those
without co-occurring illnesses.
Mental health affects companies and the people they employ. Employees suffering with even
moderate effects from mental health issues may produce less efficiently when compared with
their peers. They may also be less engaged.
Employees suffering from poor mental health usually interact less professionally with their
coworkers, customers and clients, and exhibit disciplinary issues. This may result in less-than-
optimal cooperation within a team environment and cause team members to feel physically
threatened by their behaviour.
Also, employees suffering with mental health issues may take more sick days or personal time
off than their colleagues. Something that the HR department would have to manage carefully.
Compassionate employers must demonstrably value their human resources by incorporating
strategies for awareness of mental health issues and coping mechanisms for stress in their overall
employee wellness programs.
Awareness of mental health and emotional challenges are not issues that HR professionals can
drive alone. HRPAB advocates for a concerted effort within the workplace, at all levels. Astute
supervisors and caring coworkers are often the first to notice a colleague who appears to be
experiencing challenges.

However, it is incumbent on the HR professional with the support of the executive body to create
and maintain a culture of wellness for the organization. Since this article is aimed at HR
practitioners and people leaders, below is a list of actions that can be taken to spearhead these
efforts.
Provide emotional intelligence training for all employees who are in a leadership role so that
they can readily recognize the signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety and mental issues exhibited
by their team members.
Offer materials such as flyers and pamphlets or links to online video resources promoting mental
health awareness and treatment.
Introduce avenues by which employees can confidentially report and discuss any mental health
challenges they are facing and be directed to appropriate support resources without fear of
recriminations.
Encourage employees to provide feedback on any aspect of their daily duties that create undue
stress or triggers.
Implement grief counselling in the event of the death of an employee as team members may need
help coping with the loss of their colleague.
Total wellbeing is wellness of mind, body, and spirit. A healthy employee is a happy, productive
employee. The cost to introduce wellness programs is minimal when one considers the return on
that investment. If we value our employees as our greatest asset, attention must be given to the
issue of mental health in the workplace.
There is a plethora of local counsellors, psychologists and mental health experts who can be
valuable resources for HR practitioners, in the event external professional support is required for
an employee. There is a lingering stigma attached to mental health issues which we can
overcome by consistently demonstrating support for each situation that arises, in a
compassionate and caring manner.
The Human Resource Professionals of Antigua and Barbuda (HRPAB) is a registered non-
profit, professional association dedicated to the advancement of the HR profession for
national development. We began informally from 2009 and legally registered in 2011.
HRPAB’s growing membership represents private and public organisations as well as
independent consultants specializing in one or more areas of human resource management
and development. Membership is offered for three categories: professional, non-
professional, and honorary. You may contact us via email at hrpro.ab@gmail.com or on
Facebook and Instagram @HRPro268.

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