It is estimated that between 15% and 30% of working South Africans will experience mental problems at some point of their careers. While most recover fully, approximately 30% will suffer chronic mental health problems.
“Numerous studies have proven the correlation between stress, including pressures experienced within the workplace, and mental illnesses. Acting as a trigger to severe psychiatric conditions, such as depression, stress can also lead to acute psychotic episodes.
"Additional health risks include a reduced immune response, increased risk of heart disease, stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome to name a few examples,” explains Jacques Snyman, Product Development Director at Agility Global Health Solutions.
From a business perspective, the results are also worth stressing over
An Australian study conducted by Medibank found that stress-related absenteeism and presenteeism cost the country’s economy $14,81 billion per annum. For employers, the direct cost was estimated at $10,11 billion.
“While little research exists from a local perspective, the South African Stress and Health (SASH) study ranked the country as 7th highest in the world for the prevalence of mood disorders and 6th for the prevalence of anxiety disorders. CAM Solutions, a local company that measures and monitors corporate absenteeism, attributed 3,4% of all sick leave taken in the first half of 2008 to psychological conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety,” says Snyman.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for chronic stress and the cure often requires remedial action
"Further aggravating the situation is that work stress is often ignored to the detriment of both the employee and employer in the form of productivity loss. Group counselling sessions and a planned strategy for the workplace go a long way in identifying underlying issues.
“Coping strategies and defining job stress are important aspects of an intervention programme aimed at reducing and preventing burnouts within the workforce,” Snyman advises.
“An important part of the success of such a strategy would be the integration of a company wellness programme with the healthcare providing medical scheme,” says Snyman.
By employing a proactive approach, Snyman believes employers can ensure that employees are directed towards the appropriate care timeously, thus reducing the knock-on effects of absenteeism and lost productivity.
Employers should also take a close look at the scheme’s benefit structure
For example, a study conducted by Agility Global Health Solutions (AGHS), medical scheme administrator and managed care service provider for Resolution Health, found that members of a closed scheme that offered limited benefits for GP visits were twice as likely to develop a psychiatric illness due to stressful working conditions. By increasing benefits for GP visits, members are able to access treatment early and before their symptoms require serious intervention.
“The results also make a strong case for employers to adopt a more compassionate approach to their employees’ wellbeing by allowing them time off work to proactively manage their mental health,” Snyman concludes.