Investing in the mental health of workers


  • Letters
  • Wednesday, 12 Apr 2017

DEVELOPING good mental health is important at all workplaces in order to achieve a safe, healthy and productive workforce.

This is also crucial since experts have warned that mental illness will become the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart diseases by 2020.

It was recently reported that Malaysia is also dealing with workplace-related depression, “Depression taking root in the workforce” (Sunday Star, April 2).

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) finding also shows that depression will soon overtake cardiovascular disease in determining the Disability-Adjusted Life Year (Daly) of individuals in the workforce of a country.

Daly is a formula used to measure the number of years lost by an individual in the productive age range due to ill-health, disability or early death.

The 2015 National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS) also reveals that 4.2 million Malaysians aged 16 and above (or 29.2% of the total population) are struggling with mental health issues, up from 11.2% in 2006.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan was recently quoted saying that there was already a visible increase in the number of workplace-related depression cases in the country.

The general finding was that a lot of Malaysians are suffering from some kind of depression in their working life, Shamsuddin said.

I believe every worker is entitled to a safe and healthy workplace.

The neglect of mental health and psychosocial factors at the workplace is not only detrimental to the individual worker but also directly affects productivity, efficiency and output of any organisation.

Therefore, all organisations must consider work-related stress and psychosocial risks as part of their safety and health strategy to reduce accidents and injuries at the workplace.

Stress in the workplace can manifest in various forms including absenteeism (habitual absence from work) and presenteeism (being present at work despite being sick). Stressed workers can also contribute to higher accident and injury rates.

There are many contributing factors to psychosocial risks at the workplace that can lead to stress, burn-out and depression.

Among them are poor work organisation, excessive workload, conflicting roles, job insecurity, interpersonal conflict, physical and psychological abuse, sexual harassment, lack of support from higher management and ineffective communication.

There are also employers and managers who contribute to workplace stress by denying employees the work-life balance that is vital for maintaining positive mental health.

It is important for organisations to implement plans to prevent or reduce stress, create a healthy psychosocial work environment and develop organisational functions and culture that can reduce workplace stress.

Employers must also establish Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) committees to help examine and identify problems relating to mental health at workplaces, and formulate a credible and sustainable programme to address these problems.

Organisations should also introduce an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) that can provide both prevention and early intervention for employees affected by stress, emotional and mental health issues.

The Government could also introduce guidelines for promoting mental health at workplaces and encourage campaigns and education to help create awareness on the issue.

Our focus and investment in safeguarding the mental health and emotional wellbeing of employees will definitely reap positive impacts in the future.

TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE

Chairman

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health

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