Mental Health Matters

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By Vuyo Lutseke, Director, SVAI

Mental Health SVAI

Healthcare has been an important conversation globally – awareness of it, those who have access to it, and more importantly those who do not. Across the developing world, (“the global south”) issue of access to not only healthcare services but also specialist skills and knowledge have been well dissected. Crossing that divide has been a focus of leaders across the continent and the rest of the world.

It is time to mainstream mental healthcare and its importance to building a healthy society and workforce, as well as future generations. Not just through lip service but by creating systems that ensure that mental health is as much a priority as the physical kind.

“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” – Center for Disease Control

When broken down as per above, mental health is at the core of how we function as individuals and groups, particularly when looking at not only individual development through the stages of life, but of a society as well. We need to look at ourselves holistically, as beings, and ensuring not just physical but also psychological wellbeing.

When one breaks a leg in an accident, the scars and broken bones are evident and time and resources are put towards healing well planned and executed  – psychological scars while not visible to the naked eye, are much deeper. And, it is the invisible scars that society has trouble addressing.

We live in a society that faces gender-based violence, discrimination of various forms, very recent histories of colonisation and apartheid – the effects of which we live with to this day.

When we are one generation away from the legalised victimisation of people based on the colour of their skin or their ethnicity, and can visibly see the effects of that, how can we not address the psychological scars as this will affect if and how we truly recover and move on as a society – long after legislation has been changed. Even now, as a global society, we are facing issues of gender inequality, demonstrated in overt and covert ways. All of this has psychological effects but there is still a stigma attached to mental health, which creates another barrier.

These are major issues that will continue to affect even generations who did not directly experience these challenges. Moreover, it requires conscious leadership and institutional change that is committed to ensuring the mental health of everyone – education, a change in discourse and how we address mental health, and creating opportunity to access help when people need it.  

At a relatively micro level, within organisations, it is important to consider the wellbeing of employees as this affects their productivity internally but also consider the psychological safety of the environment and if that is part of the employees’ experience.

The newly published research report, The Costly Impact of GBV, underscored the need for a comprehensive strategy and policy-based approach to responding to GBV from a workplace perspective – the same could be said for approaching mental health matters as employers, to ensure a holistically healthy and well-performing organisation. The report, which was launched earlier this month by the SVAI in partnership with University of Johannesburg, Mid Sweden University and supported by KPMG South Africa, explored private sector perceptions and realities of gender based violence among employees and business leaders.

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, psychological safety is “the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes”. To clarify, it’s not an environment of niceties all the time, but one where members of the team know that speaking up is encouraged and they will not be chastised or neglected for doing so. It cultivates not just trust but interpersonal risk taking, vulnerability, and is an approach to culture that can foster engagement and a high level of collaborative work and has been said to be one of the most critical traits of successful teams. Moreover, it starts with addressing the state of mind of individuals and the group.  

This is one part of a wide range of strategies (including promoting a work-life balance, creating opportunities for discussion around mental health, offering services, and reducing the stigma – to name a few) that an organisation can and should put in place. Only then, can organisations effectively contribute to nurturing a healthy work force that is supported in having positive mental health and be better able to respond to challenges both at the workplace and in life.