Battling mental health disorders and lack of support in the workplace

Many employees struggle against a tense environment and being called 'unprofessional'

Ishrat Ansari October 10, 2017
According to the World Health Organisation, around 34% people in developing countries suffer from mental health disorders. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Tahir*, who worked as a mechanical engineer for over a decade, suddenly began to find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning to attend office. After a month he was forced to resign as he failed to turn up to work for extended periods of time. He worked at a multinational firm as the head of the planning and production department.

"I felt a sort of numbness in my head in the mornings and was extremely demotivated to leave bed and get ready for work. My sister helped me get an appointment with a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with a serious mental health disorder called bipolar disorder," the 35-year-old told The Express Tribune.

World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10 every year and this year's theme is mental health in the workplace. Many professionals like Tahir are prone to depression in the increasingly competitive and monotonous working world.

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Sharing his ordeal at his workplace where he worked for over a year, he said it is not easy to work in a highly competitive environment, particularly for a person who is already suffering from a mental health issue.

Dr Nazila Bano Khalid, a psychiatrist who works at a rehabilitation centre, The Recovery House (TRH) as director, explained that undoubtedly it is difficult for a person who is suffering from any kind of mental health disorder to meet with the challenges of a work environment.

"Along with medication, there is a need to learn stress coping skills. If people lack coping skills their performance at work is effected and that eventually leads to their termination," she said.

She said there is a need to exercise, do yoga and socialise because these activities greatly help improve health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 34% people in developing countries suffer from mental health disorders.

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Since more females are entering the professional world after completing their studies, it is difficult for many of them to deal with work-related challenges if they suffer from mental health issues.

One such young woman is Sarah*, a millennial who suffers from chronic depression and has been working in the media in Pakistan for the last two years. In her experience, she said empathetic colleagues and supervisors are difficult to find.

Talking about her battle against depression, she said the environment at workplaces can get extremely stressful, because of office politics, professional jealousies and unethical practices - none of which help when dealing with depression and anxiety.

"When I tried to open up about my struggle with depression to my boss, he told me not to bring personal stuff into the professional sphere and compared his level of exhaustion to mine, which was extremely unfair," she narrated.

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"Then I spoke about my situation to another editor and she told me everybody has problems and that mine aren't any different. She said many people have it worse than me so I should suck it up," Sarah recalled.

"What I needed at that time was support, cooperation and encouragement, instead of being told I am inadequate and a pain to deal with."

Dr Nargis Asad, who works as an associate professor and clinical psychologist at the Aga Khan University's psychiatry department, said it is very unprofessional and insensitive on the part of employers to treat their subordinates this way. "Depression is an illness like any other illness so there is a need to understand and cooperate with people suffering from mental health issues," she urged.

"It is very important for people who suffer from depression to work in their profession as it helps them improve their productivity and overall health."

Sarah said if anything, people with depression are often over-achievers. She said they work hard because they do not want anybody to devalue their achievements as something that was handed to them out of pity.

Dr Asad acknowledged the fact that encouragement and cooperation are musts for people who are suffering from depression or any other mental health issues.

*Names changed to protect privacy

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