Mental illness in the workplace: More needs to be done

Mental illness in the workplace: More needs to be done

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says 1 in 4 South African employees suffer from depression.

Mental Illness in the work place

A recent SADAG survey shows that 61% of people suffering from mental illness chose to disclose their condition to their superiors.

It also shows that 69% of the respondents experienced negative or no response when they discussed their mental illness with their superiors.

“(Today) is world mental health day and the theme this year internationally is mental health in the work place. We wanted to specifically look into what people are experiencing when they have conversations about their mental illness at work,” says SADAG spokesperson Dessy Tzoneva

Jacaranda FM News spoke to several people who suffer from a mental illness.

Nikita Ramikisson, who suffers from severe depression and is also bipolar, says the response has often been negative.

“In the majority of places I have worked it was not really accepted. I couldn’t really talk about it. If was open about it there would be gossip going around and people assume that you are broken and cannot do your job,” says Ramikisson.

Thato Moloi*, who also suffers from bipolar disorder, says her training at Legal Aid increased her anxiety.

“They threw me into the deep end without any assistance or direction and I had an anxiety attack.  I was not told what time my lunch was, nor what time I knock off. There was animosity towards me as if I am there to steal someone’s job. I stopped working there after a week and was admitted to a mental health hospital,” says Moloi.

Tish Lumos, a senior administrator at Wits who also suffers from mental illness, says employers must do more.

“Flexy hours of work factor in things like going to a clinic for psychiatry, psychology or occupational therapy follow-ups. Having additional sick leave where somebody is hospitalised as a result of mental leave. Having allowances for things like side effects from medication that might give them problems as they adjust to that and having medical insurance that specifically covers mental illness and quality care,” says Lumos.


Lerato Maseko*, an auditor who suffers from severe depression, says whilst her employer has wellness programs, very few people understand mental illness.


“The programs are there but the implementation is lacking, because the people you work close with will know that there is something wrong with you, but they don’t know how to deal with it. Managers are not equipped to support you,” says Moloi.


Steven Swart, a senior software developer who suffers from Schizophrenia, says because of his condition he has to work from home.

 “I asked during an interview that I be allowed to work from home. I found that commuting on top of having to work a 9 hour day every day was just too stressful on me. I actually had to resign my former position because of that. It came to a point where I felt I might suffer a relapse. That is why I resigned that position. I do work from home and it has helped as far as my stress levels are concerned,” says Swart.


Tzoneva says closer attention needs to be paid to how mental illness affects people in their places of work.


“Sometimes we assume that those kind of difficulties stop when we get to work and resume when we leave. But that’s not how mental illness works. It’s important to think about how it affects us at work and what can we do about it as managers or co-workers to support persons with mental illness.

 *Thato Moloi and Lerato Maseko are not their real names.

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