Geothermal Development Company (GDC) has unveiled a team that will offer mental health and psychological support services to its employees in a move aimed at improving productivity and reducing work and non-work-related stresses.
The initiative follows a deal by the state-owned agency to enter into partnerships with its medical service providers to offer counseling platforms and also ensure its employees are involved in interactive training sessions in relation to matters of mental health and promote a culture where staff and top managers freely discuss mental health as a way of reducing stigma.
The public power exploration firm has appointed Mr. Ibrahim Oruma to chair the team dubbed ‘GDC wellness champions’ comprising all cadres of staff drawn from across all its departments and regions.
Mr. Oruma said the initiative was part of the state-owned agency’s strategy to consider mental health wellness services as mainstream, not optional, adding that preventive counseling occurring before workers are in crisis reduces the risk of employees slowing down a business.
“Many employers either do not care about the psychological welfare of their workers or are ignorant of their workers’ and (their own) need for psychological services. It is our duty as wellness champions to encourage our colleagues to practice habits that safeguard their mental and physical wellness at all times. Research has also shown that these health problems cause more days of work loss and work impairment than many other chronic conditions, like diabetes, asthma and arthritis,” noted the chairperson.
He pointed out that workers in organizations that have put in place a sound employee mental wellness assistance programme show better appreciation of their organization, significant understanding of career possibilities, more future orientation, increased job engagement and greater self-efficacy than their counterparts that don’t enjoy this essential programme.
“Benefits of a sound employee mental wellness assistance programme to any employer include reducing sick days, acting as an alternative conflict-resolution mechanism, reducing the pressure on managers of dealing with difficult staff, and earning the firm the reputation of being worker-friendly,” Mr. Oruma observed.
The World Health Organisation (WHO’s) World Mental Health Report, published in June, revealed that 15 percent of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder and constituted a huge part of the one billion people estimated to be living with a mental disorder in 2019.
Mental disorders may emanate from work-related scenarios such as extremely high expectations, inflexible working hours, or when one senses a lack of support from management or colleagues.
“The workplace amplifies wider societal issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality,” the agency said.
A recent study has revealed that many middle and top-level organizations in Kenya, including Government departments and agencies, are populated by workers who are suffering from a wide range of unattended mental illnesses, including depression, stress, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and anger.
Mr. Oruma singled out absenteeism, high illness rates, reduced labour output and productivity, accidents, increased staff turnover, and high welfare payments as indicators of lack of good mental health wellness at a workplace.
He added, “Good mental health increases productivity and boosts employees’ esteem. It decreases both the recurrence of absenteeism and the number of workers involved in disciplinary incidents. When our colleagues are well, it means they are mentally fit and physically sound to tackle the demands of their everyday assignments at GDC.”
Mr Oruma advised corporate bosses in the private sector, heads of county and national government departments and state agencies to create an environment that allows their juniors to freely share their personal problems and challenges at workplaces.
While urging employers to factor in the welfare of their employees’ mental treatment services, Mr. Oruma said various studies had shown that depressed workers lose 5 hours and 36 minutes of productive work every week compared with one and a half hours for the non-depressed.
The chairperson underscored the need to review over-reliance on medical-led interventions and redirect commitment to addressing the social determinants of mental ill-health and exploring possibilities of providing community-based mental health services.
While acknowledging that mental health is a serious predicament in the country, Oruma encouraged public servants to consult their superiors, peers, and family members when faced with difficult times, adding that their issues can be addressed.
He said there was a need to promote awareness of the importance of mental health and stress management among public servants and urged them to open up if faced with tough situations, to avoid incidents that result in harmful practices such as homicides, murders, and suicides.
He added that senior managers at workplaces in both private and public sectors need to seek basic training that will help them recognize signs and symptoms of stress and depression among their coworkers and encourage them to seek help from qualified mental health professionals.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) an estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion.
“The well-being of the individual is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating impact on a person’s performance and productivity,” states the WHO.
The UN health agency recommends manager training to build their capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers’ needs.
Mr Oruma cited poor communication and bad management practices, limited participation in decision-making and low levels of support for low cadre staff as some of the factors that could trigger mental health illnesses at workplaces.
GDC wellness champions, according to the chairperson, will strive to create a healthy workspace, by understanding the unique opportunities and needs of individual employees and interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace.
“We will check on triggers and act immediately. Bring him or her to a hospital or allow him or her to seek medical services. Triggers may be tough assignments, financial issues, marriage wrangles, transfers, working far from friends and exposure to stresses,” the chairperson pointed out
A task force on mental health established in 2020 by former President Uhuru Kenyatta reveals that Kenya has a high burden of mental illness due to ill health, psychosocial disability and premature mortality with huge gaps in access to care. Findings showed that 1 in every 10 Kenyans suffered from common mental health conditions, with depression and anxiety as the most prevalent disorders.
The national government has published the Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030 which provides a framework for interventions that address the burden of mental health problems and disorders in the country. Its full implementation is projected to result in higher levels of awareness and access to care.
The World Health Organisation intimates that 25 percent of the world will be afflicted by a mental health condition in their lifetime. Presently, 450 million people have a mental health condition according to the same source.
In its 2017 report on the world mental health situation, World Health Organisation ranked Kenya fifth among African countries with the highest number of depression cases.
By Anne Mwale