Mental Health

Ignoring your mental health at work can harm your job performance. Letting others in your workplace know you need support will go a long way to helping you cope.

How your mental health affects your job performance

Your emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing depends largely on the state of your mental health, says Pebetse Matabane-Monoma, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Legae’s mental health services unit. “It affects how you interact with other people – and if you’re not emotionally or psychologically fit, it can affect your work too. You may also be under strain from ongoing or situational issues affecting your life. Examples may be anything from work pressure to social disadvantage, long-term stress, and physical ill health. Social isolation, childhood trauma, or a death in the family can also have negative effects.”

Being in a negative state of mind affects your cognitive functions, such as concentration, problem-solving, motivation, and drive. It can also take a toll on your physical health, making you prone to gastrointestinal upsets and headaches. Someone in this situation may also struggle to manage stress and regulate their emotions.

“But mental health issues mainly affect job performance when there’s no support,” explains Matabane-Monoma. “Many employees complain about lack of support at work and little understanding of mental health in their workplace. In these situations, productivity tends to decrease while absenteeism increases. The employer is then annoyed when the person doesn’t come to work regularly, is late, makes errors in their work, or even turns up intoxicated because they’re using substances as a coping mechanism.”

Prioritise your mental health at work

Put your mental health first by speaking to your colleagues, being honest with them about your issues, and seeking support, says Matabane-Monoma. “People won’t understand you’re struggling with depression and anxiety, for example, unless you’re open about it. Many employees don’t feel comfortable being open with their employer for fear of stigmatisation. But communicating is a positive thing and helps them to better understand mental health issues.”

Matabane-Monoma suggests using basic language, such as “I’ve just lost my sister and I’m not coping” or ‘I’m not feeling emotionally well. May I please see a professional?” By being honest with your employers, you’re prioritising your mental health, she explains. Sharing a report from your mental healthcare professional can also help your employer better understand your situation and lead to a happier and more productive work environment for you.

How employers can improve mental health in the workplace

Companies are increasingly realising the importance of mental health at work. They may offer counselling services, wellness days, talks by mental health professionals, or wellness webinars, for example. But it’s still up to you to put your mental health first, says Matabane-Monoma, e.g., by making time for exercise during the workday. “Even a walk during your lunch break helps with day-to-day stress – whether it’s solo or with a colleague.”

Mental health professionals still have a way to go in educating employers and individuals about the importance of mental health, she adds. Running campaigns and workshops to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health is a key part of this. Encouraging an accepting, supportive workplace culture where people feel they can seek help leads to greater employee satisfaction and better job performance.

To find a mental health professional near you, go to Mediclinic Mental Health.