Let's Talk Mental Health | Conference Breakdown

Johannesburg, November 7 2017.

A vast majority of South Africans experiencing a mental illness are not afforded treatment largely due to a lack of resources in our health care system.

This came out at the 6th annual Disability Conference hosted by equity solutions company, Progression in Johannesburg.

Research shows that as much as 85 percent of South African’s do not receive treatment for mental illnesses.

 “Reasons differ, but among the most common issues for people not being treated for mental illnesses are lack of awareness surrounding their condition, the stigma associated with mental disability, access to effective treatment and cultural beliefs,” said Justene Smith of Progression.

In the spirit of Disability Awareness Month (03 November- 03 December), Progression focused on mental disability in the workplace.

“A lot of people don’t even know that mental disability is covered in the Employment Equity Act. Most people limit their definition of a disability to physical constraints. Whilst illnesses like depression, anxiety, bi-polar and ADD  (attention deficit disorder) are also capable of restricting a person’s prospect of entry into or advancement in employment, and are thus considered as a disability” said Smith.

Smith added persons with a mental disability tend to be over looked when it comes to training and promotions at work, and this hinders the progress of these individuals. 

Persons living with mental disabilities need support and understanding from their employers. Employers need to learn to embrace and celebrate persons living with a mental disability and move away from the negative stigma that is too often attached to mental conditions Smith said. 

Managing Director of Progression, Tarryn Mason said mental disability and its impact had to be looked at from a contextual perspective.

“Fifty five percent of South African’s live in poverty, which adds to the likelihood of those individuals having mental disabilities, making them especially vulnerable to depression and anxiety disorders. Eighty percent of abused and neglected children are at risk of developing a psychiatric disorder as young adults. Without proper diagnosis, these children are placed in mainstream schools where they do not have access to the proper facilities and support they desperately need to succeed. These children later filter into the work place where their psychiatric disorders can hinder their future advancement and success . Early detection is key. That way, we can talk to a person’s ability rather than his or her disability,” said Mason.

Tarryn later, went on to highlight the importance of having open conversations between the employer and or manager and the employee regarding their disability. “It is only through open and honest communication, that reasonable accommodation measures can be explored, which will ensure the employee receives the support and understanding that is vital to successfully managing the condition and maintain productivity. Of course it is crucial to note that these conversations are completely confidential and at no point does an employee have to disclose their disability. However, doing so can be greatly beneficial.”

Work related stress has also been identified as a leading contributor to mental illnesses in South Africa.  Organisations are competing in a global market, which requires perpetual change to meet demands and these can be taxing on employees.

“The fluctuating economy as well as the dynamic shifts that companies have to go through to remain competitive, results in increased pressure, tasks and targets for employees. All these factors add to the levels of stress employees experience in their jobs,” said Smith.  

Clinical Psychologist Tyrone Edgar said there are no quick fix solutions for mental illnesses. The recovery period varies for each individual, employers need to be cognisant of this when working with persons with a disability.

“Anyone can experience or be diagnosed with a mental illness at some stage of their life, and people react differently to both the illness and medication. On average, it takes about a minimum 20 weeks of consistent, quality treatment for a person to make a recovery. Companies need not get frustrated or fearful, mental illnesses can be managed if treated effectively,” said Edgar.

The one-day conference aims to raise awareness and create a dialogue that fosters learning and acceptance around all forms of disabilities.

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