Time to Talk: Mental Wellbeing And The Sierra Leonean Workplace
One of the big elephants, and there are many, in Sierra Leonean workplaces remain to be how we approach staff wellbeing and more specifically how we approach conversations around Mental wellbeing with our most valuable assets, our people. Through a series of approaches, during 2021, Afriqia HR Solutions will embark on an active national conversation around how we are approaching mental wellbeing and what tangible steps we can all start to take in our workplaces to create for more sensitive, conducive and empowering environments. Whilst the majority of organisations, even if it is limited to paper, have policies around health- that heading rarely adequately encompasses mental health. We need to be doing more as a nation to ensure mental health is part of every conversation in every workplace.
In the UK, there is a dedicated day which takes place in the beginning of February, with the theme “Time to Talk”. The idea behind this day is to trigger as many conversations as possible about mental health and work towards ending mental health stigma in the workplace. The idea behind this day is that there is “power” in even the smallest of steps. Essentially, a small, short and confined conversation about mental health has the power to make a big difference. At Afriqia HR Solutions, we believe that too, the more conversations that we have, the more myths we can confront, the more barriers we can break and the more we can do towards ending the stigma and isolation experienced by so many.
Through a series of in-house conversations, our team of consultants have provided their thoughts and started the conversation about mental well-being in the workplace. Through our clients we see the significant differences between organisations that promote mental health and those that either pay no attention to it or pay mere lip service. We believe that good mental health at work goes with good leadership. If you are leading a team or an organization, are you considering how to create a thriving team?
Our mental health is our body’s response in the form of thoughts and feelings. Our mental health dictates how we respond to all that life throws at us, whether positive or negative. Mental health, just like general health, is something each and every one of us has. When we enjoy good mental health, we generally feel quite good. We respond to even the biggest of challenges positively and we feel motivated and empowered to just keep going irrespective of what life throws at us. Now just like our general health, this situation is not permanent. For most people their mental state fluctuates from healthy and unhealthy sometimes even in one day. Most of the time, tough times pass but for some of us, it becomes a spiral that has a much more long lasting impact. For some people, things become complex and they need further support or in some cases treatment.
For most of us, we spend more of our day at work then at home. Our colleagues, supervisors and employers need to be trained to recognise the early signs of mental health problems. We have to recognise that there is a limited infrastructure in Sierra Leone to handle mental health problems and we have a responsibility to each other to support each other where possible to avoid a downhill spiral. When necessary we need to be agents in helping those around us seek professional help before things advance.
“Sierra Leone has an estimated treatment gap of 98% for severe mental illness”.
Our mental health picture as a nation is not looking good. A 2019 report on mental health in Sierra Leone, highlighted how most Sierra Leoneans have experienced traumatic events that are associated with negative health outcomes. A decade long civil war, an Ebola outbreak, recurrent life-threatening floods and mudslides and now, with the rest of the world, we are grappling with COVID-19. All of this compounded with some of the prevalent daily challenges that people face as a result of weak infrastructures, poverty and food insecurity, we have a labour force that needs intentional mental health support. A WHO 2014 report, also indicated that our alcohol use is significantly higher than the regional average and our rates of substance misuse, especially marijuana and tramadol, are becoming a national cause for concern.
According to the WHO, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression, one of the leading causes of disability, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety. A negative working environment or an environment that dismisses mental well-being as a priority area exacerbates that problem. A negative working environment can also result in poor mental health. This results in absenteeism, reduction in productivity, and can have dire personal, interpersonal and operational consequences.
Most of the risks sparked within the workplace are linked to the environment, the tasks, the resources and the nature of support provided. Some of the key things you need to ask to consider whether you are putting your team at risk:
- Do your health and safety policies encompass mental health considerations? Are they robust? Are they aesthetic or are they impactful?
- What does communication look like in my team? Are people able to openly express challenges and emotions without stigma or repercussions? Is management supportive or alienating? Are we focused on building people or breaking them?
- Do employees feel in control? Do they make any decisions as part of their work or are they continuously responding to instruction? Do they feel empowered or utilized?
- Are there avenues for accessing support? Are they efficient? Is there a constant monitoring and review process?
- What are your policies around bullying? Does it include psychological harassment?
Where people are employed in jobs that have a higher personal risk than others, for example those that are first responders, those who work with victims of abuse, those daily handling harrowing tasks on various frontlines, does your organization provide the adequate support mechanisms?
We advise that you start where we started this piece. Create a time to talk within your organization where you handle this conversation head on. You can then follow with some of the steps outlined below:
- Allow for openness and spaces where your employees can talk about their feelings. Identify in your team a mental health focal person that you ensure is trained to be the initial point of contact in the workplace. That individual can continuously liaise with the relevant partners internally and externally to keep an active pulse check on mental health in your workplace.
- Review your policies and ensure they are sensitive to all the concerns raised in this piece. Include your staff in policy formulation and ensure that policy is applicable, relevant and sustainable. Consider how you are identifying distress, how you are responding to and educating on substance abuse and whether you are actually providing the support to address them.
- Have open communication channels with your team and create an environment that is supportive, caring and sensitive to the needs and the realities of mental health in Sierra Leone.
- Ensure that you are proactive about creating a healthy work life balance and push for fitness, good eating habits, sleep and everything else that is moving down organisations’ priority lists.
- Be intentional about bring the mental health conversation in-house, contribute to stigma reduction and ensure pathways for reintegration and access to those with mental illnesses or disorders.
And if your organization is not open yet to these higher-level considerations, ensure that change starts with you, your relationship with your team, your colleagues and work towards creating a more conducive environment. Remember change starts with small yet very crucial steps and they can come from any direction.
Start the conversation: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/time-talk-day
Keep an eye on our series of conversations, activities and initiatives this year. We can all do a lot more to promote better mental health practices in our workplaces.