By Sarah Jaravaza

Mental Health is a difficult topic to bring up in the workplace. I have found that in my country of Zimbabwe, in the African context, many people associate having a mental health disorder with witchcraft and demons. In fact, in some communities, it is even considered taboo to mention a mental health problem.  

What is mental health?   

What mostly comes to people’s mind when they think about mental health, is disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar – but not anxiety, low mood swings which can all be signs that something is troubling your mental health. Just like our physical health, we need to take care of our mental health. But that isn’t usually the case, especially in the workplace, the place where we spend most of our time. In most workplaces, you will find behaviours of our own, or others that we are exposed to that that really threaten our mental health.  

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can make a contribution to his or her community”. I would like you to read that statement and ask yourself if that statement applies to you.  

If it does, then that is great but if it doesn’t there is nothing to fear. One challenge I have heard from friends in this country and all over the diaspora is the scarcity of mental health resources. If you feel like you need help, don’t be scared to take the first step. Many government and religious organisations offer free counselling. Counselling is a good way to find out and treat mental health conditions like depression. 

Mental Health Awareness in the workplace:

One of my key take-home messages from a mental health awareness workshop I attended last year, is that we often do not take into consideration what happens at the workplace that is affecting our mental health. Bullying takes place in the workplace and it can have adverse effects. It has taken me some time to realise that in the workplace, one can be easily affected by simple day to day incidences. A friend once shared with me that some male colleagues made inappropriate jokes of a sexual nature, but she felt that she couldn’t complain about it as she wanted to fit in.

Some tips for managing your mental health in the workplace:

  • Be aware of your triggers. 
  • Speak up if you can. If people don’t take you seriously, take the issue up.  
  • Ask for help/delegate duties until you can cope. 
  • Seek professional assistance or counselling. 

Mental Health, Work and the COVID-19 Pandemic

As I write, most of the world is either in lockdown or emerging from lockdowns. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the year, job losses have been common, or people have been put on unpaid leave. Loss of income is a significant mental stressor and you need time to acknowledge this as a trigger.

If you suddenly have lots of time on your hands, get into a daily routine, and try to find activities you can do around the home on your own or with family. At times, even if you can’t go for a walk, just opening the window and getting some fresh air can make a difference.

If you are in Zimbabwe, organisations like AFRIBS and Friendship Bench have information on Mental Health resources. Follow both on Twitter.