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Mental Health


Human Capital

Employment Equity

Mental Health

Did you know …

> Depression has been identified as the leading disability globally.

> On a global scale, South Africa was ranked as the second most stressed country.

> 85% of South Africans living with Depression do not receive treatment for their condition.

> Today, work-related stress contributes significantly to mental disabilities such as Depression.

Of those diagnosed with Depression, only 61% disclose their condition to

their employer. Of this number, almost 70% receive an adverse reaction

or no response at all.

To fully understand the dynamics of mental disability in the workplace,

it is necessary to unpack the definition of disability. According to the

Employment Equity Act, No.55 of 1998,“people with disabilities are

people who have a long-term or recurring physical, including sensory,

or mental impairment which substantially limits their prospect of entry

into or advancement in employment.”

It is generally accepted that some jobs are more stressful and pressurised

than others. In some professions, burn-out and stress-related mental

conditions are more prevalent. It is, therefore, essential that high stress

levels, which may lead to mental illness, are not accepted as part and

parcel of a job or profession. Employers should take cognizance

of their employees well-being in high-stress situations. Perhaps

following a highly pressurised project, the relevant employee’s

role could be restructured to enable them to reboot their

energies. Take into account that temporarily restructuring a

employee’s role in an organisation is more beneficial than

replacing that specific position every five years due to

work-related stress.

A mental disability, in particular, is defined as a

clinically recognised condition or illness that affects a

person’s thought processes, judgement or emotions. It

refers to a wide range of conditions that affect a person’s

mood, thinking, behaviour, aptitude to learn, memory, ability to live

independently and/or motor functions. Justene Smith, a Disability

Specialist at Progression, explains, “A lot of people are not aware that

mental illness is addressed in the Employment Equity Act. More often

than not, the perception of disability aligns with visible disabilities.

However, conditions such as Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar

Mood Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder do restrict a person’s

prospect of entry into or advancement in the workplace. Therefore,

upon being clinically diagnosed with any of these conditions, a person

would be considered to have a disability, which essentially is an invisible


The Burning Issue

Mental disability is the umbrella term used to refer to psychiatric, cognitive and neurological

disabilities. Hereunder, by category, is a non-exhaustive list of mental disabilities including the

description of each, as well as examples of conditions per category

In both the workplace and society at large, there are man-made barriers preventing people with

disabilities from gaining access to, and advancing in, the workplace. This is regardless of such

barriers being of an attitudinal or infrastructural nature, conscious or subconscious, or through

misguided perceptions ingrained through a person’s upbringing. Essentially, these man-made

barriers take away the basic human rights of people living with disabilities and could negatively

impact an organisation’s employee retention.

More so than a physical disability, mental disabilities are often frowned upon by society. In many

people, there is an ingrained mental stereotype of what people living with mental disabilities

represent. However, each mental disability is unique to each person. Apart from those born with

a mental disability, there are well-functioning, high performing employees who may experience

burn-out. Left undetected or untreated, it could evolve into a mental disability diagnosis. It is

critical that organisations realise that without these barriers being removed, the high calibre

employee diagnosed with a disability would more than likely not disclose their condition. Depending

on the level of responsibility held by a particular employee, this could be detrimental to decision

making or impact on health and safety. Such man-made barriers include, however, are not limited to:

Break Down the Man-Made Barriers

Although the barriers for people with mental disabilities may seem superficial to many, the reality is they impact the lives of people living with their

diagnosis. For example, they prevent an employee, or those applying for a job, from disclosing their diagnosed condition. Remember, an employee

or job applicant is not bound to disclose their disability, either mental or physical. Without disclosing a mental disability and implementing reasonable

accommodation, many mental disability diagnoses only come to light once a disciplinary action has been implemented. Often, at this stage, the

employer-employee relationship has irrevocably broken down. Unfortunately, in many cases, the imposing barriers are erected subconsciously.

Therefore, it is, necessary to put processes in place that will eradicate either conscious or sub-conscious barriers.

Get Policies and Procedures in Place

Having adequate policies and procedures in place is essential to managing employees with disabilities.

They ensure that sufficient support structures are put in place to steer an employee to perform to their maximum

potential. Having policies and procedures that specifically focus on disability protects both the employer and

employee. It would ensure that the employee with a disability is aware of what is available to accommodate them.

In the same way, an employer will have the right tools to consult with an employee with a disability and understand

the processes involved in implementing reasonable accommodation or disciplinary action.

Primarily, having adequate policies and procedures in place that are professional and support confidentiality, will

encourage full disclosure upon diagnosis or employment.

The Benefits of Reasonable Accommodation

A disability policy must include how the organisation approaches reasonable

accommodation. In South Africa, reasonable accommodation is ensured

through the Employment Equity Act No. 55 of 1998. The concept of reasonable

accommodation, as defined in the Employment Equity Act, is designed to

provide fair, non-judgemental, accessible employment. It primarily explores

the possibilities which exist within a business, with the view to minimising

any barriers. Implementation would allow an employer to focus on the skills

and value of employees with disabilities instead of the disability itself.

Tarryn Mason, Managing Director at Progression, elaborates,“Although

reasonable accommodation is supported through legislation, it remains

largely inaccessible to people with disabilities, specifically those living

with mental disabilities. This is often as a result of man-made barriers

and uncertainty in implementing the reasonable accommodation.

It is unfortunate that many employers wrongly assume that

reasonable accommodation measures come at a very high cost to

an organisation.”

Reasonable versus Unreasonable

When does reasonable accommodation become unreasonable

or undue hardship, as it is otherwise known? Reasonable

accommodation must not burden an organisation with undue

hardship. In other words, it must not have a negative impact

on the day-to-day running of an organisation or be detrimental

to the health and safety of a workforce.

Take Action

If an employee with disabilities does not perform

the inherent requirements of their job following

implementation of appropriate reasonable

accommodation measures, the normal performance

management processes should be followed.

13- mental health (pages)
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