A disability isn’t always visible. Mediclinic Southern Africa places importance on the prevention of mental ill-health in the workplace and the maintenance of emotional and psychological wellness.
Two years ago, when Lillian Ramsden, a careworker at Mediclinic Upington, was struggling with her mental health, Mediclinic supported her journey to wellness every step of the way. “I had left my marriage after 25 years of physical and emotional abuse,” she recalls. “My wonderful new partner was then killed in a car accident.” The shock and grief pushed Lillian into a profound clinical depression. Hopeless and overwhelmed, she couldn’t see a future and in her bleak state, even attempted suicide. “I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything, I didn’t care about anyone,” she recalls. “I just wanted to die”
When people speak about disability, it is usually related to something physical, such as an amputation or blindness, says Dr Ziyaad Essop, Corporate Health and Wellness Manager at Mediclinic Southern Africa. “Mental illness is not something we can see, but it can have a significant impact on someone’s ability to concentrate, make decisions and engage effectively with their community and environment.”
Fortunately Lillian was able to confide in her unit manager that she needed help. “I was able to access the Employee Assistance Programme and the social workers at Incon Health explained that I was burned out. They arranged for me to spend three weeks at a private mental health clinic in Cape Town, which was an absolute life-saver. I received extensive therapy and medication and was able to see how difficult my life had been. I’d suffered two miscarriages from being punched by my ex-husband and even have a shunt in my brain after he ran me over with his car. Therapy helped me see how strong I actually I am. Today I am very positive about life – and am so thankful to Mediclinic for the support.”
The Employment Equity Act states that for a mental illness to be classified as a disability, it needs to meet a few criteria – it must be an impairment, it must be recurring and must be present for longer than twelve months. However, as Anlé D'Emiljo, an industrial psychologist and Organisational Effectiveness Specialist for Mediclinic Southern Africa explains, when mental illness goes unrecognised and untreated for an extended period of time it can lead to disability. “We want to ensure things don’t progress to that point by offering preventative mental wellness initiatives,” she says.
Mediclinic employees can make use of a wide range of mental health initiatives and support, including:
- Access to social workers via Incon Health either at the workplace or via a dedicated call line.
- Continuously updated online content on the Wellness Hub accessible via MyChat, the employee app. This is designed to ensure that individuals can familiarise themselves with common mental health conditions, encourage self-recognition of emotional issues and access useful case studies.
- Short snappy tools (such as the mental health barometer) and self-checks to support the individual, line managers and teams to help themselves and help others.
- Follow-ups, check-ins and personalised help.
“It’s a two-way street,” Dr Essop adds. “We can offer programmes and services, but employees need to access them to receive the necessary support. The real value lies in implementing what they’ve been taught in terms of coping skills and assessment tools.”
Lillian now makes a point of sharing her story with others who might be struggling. “A lot of people are ashamed to ask for help,” she says. “But there is a lot of support available to you.” Hearing what it’s like to have a mental health problem from people who’ve experienced the issues first hand can help break down negative stereotypes. “I have become very observant of other people’s mental health issues and I share my positivity with them,” Lillian says.
Dr Essop explains that employees are Mediclinic’s most valuable asset – and that they need to be well-equipped to deal with stressors. “Having a good state of mind allows us to make accurate decisions and adapt to changes within the industry. We work in a high-risk environment and patient safety is a core value in our business. This is why emotional and mental health is a well-defined, standalone pillar emphasised within our broader corporate health and wellbeing strategy.”
Dr Essop adds that Mediclinic Southern Africa is also engaging leadership and obtaining support, plus familiarising the Executive Committee with mental health issues. “We want to encourage senior leadership to champion and promote shared awareness and understanding of mental health,” he explains. “We have also formalised mental health as a topic to be discussed at every Employment Equity Committee meeting.”
In addition, Mediclinic is establishing strategic partnerships to highlight mental health issues and its impact at the workplace (such as Crazy Socks for Docs awareness events). It is also trialling a mental health App that contains different types of information, exercises/ self-assessments/video content.
Anlé says it is important to embrace those with a mental disability and not make them feel excluded. This forms part of Mediclinic’s Diversity and Inclusion focus. “We cannot discriminate against people with mental health disabilities as there is opportunity for reasonable accommodation in the workplace if they disclose a mental health issue,” says Dr Essop.
Lillian remains grateful for the unwavering support she received. “I could’ve lost my job due to mental illness, but instead Mediclinic gave me a whole new life.”