As a counselling psychologist at Priory’s Dubai Wellbeing Centre, I treat many Dubai workers suffering from mental health problems such as depression, stress and anxiety.
Many workers in this region come from overseas and migration involves challenges associated with the new environment of the host country. Living in a different country has many advantages, but the lack of social support; change in environment; customs and weather can all constitute a psychological and physical challenge to the expatriate. Factors that are shown to increase such problems are work anxieties; worries about things back home, difficulty adjusting to the new culture and financial difficulties.
Signs and symptoms to look out for in staff
Although some people can hide their suffering or think they have everything under control, there are obvious signs that can reveal inner anguish. These include: loss of confidence, loss of appetite, irritability and emotional outbursts, sadness, persistent physical ailments such as headaches, frequent infections, fatigue, substance abuse such as smoking or drinking more, impaired judgement, worrying, recurring nightmares and excessive complaints about colleagues and/or management. These should all be regarded as a ‘cry’ for help.
The role of employers
Employers should show their employees that they understand the impact of mental ill health in the workplace and create a culture that promotes mental wellbeing. A healthy workplace is not one that is ‘laid back’ or stress free but one in which the importance of managing stress is recognised, and employees are supported.
It’s vital that employers understand the potential impact of mental illness on their organisations. Around one in five people seek help for depression and there are not only important humane reasons but also financial reasons for businesses to address it.
An appropriate level of knowledge of mental illness and the principles of rehabilitation is a crucial starting point. If you are off sick with mental ill health you may be struggling with shame and be anxious about how your colleagues and the organisation will react to you on your return. Having an empathic manager on the other end of the phone when you are having your ‘check in’, or planning your return, can make a real difference and may expedite a successful return.
Employers also need to educate their workforce on mental wellbeing and the early recognition of mental illness. Investment in stress management workshops is a real must.
How employees can improve their mental wellbeing
The buck does not stop with the employer. There are ways and means for staff to confront their mental health issues and make a real difference too.
A work-life balance helps us to cushion stress with pleasurable activities, hobbies and quality time with family and friends. Talking about your problems with people you trust is a proven solution, while regular exercise, getting a good night’s sleep and eating a nutritious diet can all make a dramatic difference to how we feel.
In the office, learn to say ‘no’ and fight the guilt that might come with it. Accept that there will always be one more email, one more message. The list will never end so learn to prioritise. Engage in open communication and keep a happy and friendly attitude – it goes a long way in a work environment.
Removing the stigma
Companies need to be proactive in addressing the stigma associated with mental illness. Make sure mental health is included in workplace activities and health awareness days. Demonstrate to employees that individuals who have been off with mental illness can be successfully rehabilitated through phased returns and reasonable adjustments of duties, just as would happen after a physical illness.
Mental illness is one of the biggest health concerns of our time, particularly for people of working age, and the good news is that many companies have made considerable improvements to their attitudes on mental health over the last five years.
Many organisations have come to the priory for advice – sometimes driven by the impact on the bottom line rather than mere altruism, but either way, it is a win-win situation. An organisation that looks after the mental health of its employees will thrive. Those that are toxic environments will lose both productivity and profits.
Tanya Dharamshi is therapy services manager at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai Healthcare City