Depression in the work place: Are we confusing having a career with having a life?


We are halfway through the year and most people are already burned out due to work stress. In a world where we are expected to be superstars in every aspect of our lives – be a good parent, excel in your career, maintain a social life, drink enough water, exercise, text people back, stay alive – it is no wonder that we struggle to make it out of bed every morning. And remain sane.
Raise your hand if you are burned out and need a holiday. Raise your hand if you are miserable in your job. Raise your hand if you are ready to quit but bills and debts won’t let you prosper. Raise your hand if you want to spend the whole day wearing just underwear and a crown.

If you relate to any of the above, then you might want to consider looking into your work-life balance. Are you winning at separating your work from your personal life? Call it work-life balance, work-life coexistence or simply life, but balancing responsibilities can be stressful in this dog-eat-dog world.

The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in Botswana is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population. We cannot run away from the fact that in our workplaces and our circles of friends, there are people who are living with mental health problems and are just keeping themselves afloat, whether we know it or we don’t. You might actually be the one suffering in silence to the point that the very act of getting out of bed becomes utterly overwhelming. People are depressed and anxious due to their highly demanding jobs and are doing a good job at hiding it.

Mental health expert Maxlani Marco says work often results in the deterioration of the mental health of employees because we are living in an era where work has become life, and the lack of platforms for expressing employees’ frustrations and concerns adds on to the pressures of the job. He says employees are still reluctant to share mental health information with their managers or bosses, seemingly for good reason. “The stigma associated with mental illnesses, becoming the subject of office gossip or compromising their employment terms are all legitimate fears,” he points out. “Also, most workplaces do not offer programmes or provisions that deal with mental health in the workplace, so they just have an HR department. And employees don’t trust HR because they are too close to the company and not independent. And so because they cannot express their frustrations in a healthy way, that’s when they turn to other forms of relaxation or ways to deal with the stress like drinking copious amounts of alcohol or drugs or taking out their frustrations on other people at home.”

So yes, depression in the workplace is real.

Studies from Manpower Group suggest that millennials display the highest levels of anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide of any generation, considering they are also simultaneously on the cusp of becoming the largest global workforce by 2020. According to Deloitte, the average person spends 90,000 hours of their life working, and poor employee mental health can be due to factors internal or external to the workplace. Without effective management, this can have a serious impact on physical health, productivity and more.

Marco explains that ideally, companies should have an employee assistance programme where issues of mental health within that particular organisation are dealt with. “This is where you go to HR for assistance and HR contacts an independent firm to step in,” he says. “However, most companies in Botswana have not stepped up to the plate, so they just let HR handle psychological issues without having received any training in mental health.”

This lack of a safe space for employees perpetuates the culture of silence around mental health and well being at work.

Bad news for employers

Work-life balance is an important aspect of a healthy work environment. Maintaining work-life balance helps reduce stress and prevent burnout in the workplace. Dr. Thebe Loabile, a medical doctor, says chronic stress is one of the most common health issues in the workplace that quite often leads to physical consequences such as hypertension, digestive troubles, chronic aches and pains and heart problems. Chronic stress can also negatively impact mental health because it is linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety and insomnia. What he has to say is bad news for employers.

“Mental burnout is a real thing,” says Dr. Loabile. “Patients who are overworked or work tons of hours without enough rest usually experience fatigue, mood swings and irritability, and more often than not this leads to a decrease in work performance. Mental health is as important as physical health and needs to be taken care of because you cannot function efficiently when you are mentally drained or overwhelmed.”

Happy employee, happy organisation

Experts say it is important for employers to realise that work-life balance is about more than just hours. Besides promoting flexibility, employers should also strive to improve the overall workplace experience for their employees. Prioritising a healthy culture and cultivating a happy workplace environment promotes work-life balance. When employees are happy in their roles, work will feel more like a second home, and less like working for a pay cheque. Employers should prioritise competitive compensation, comfortable office conditions, opportunities for professional growth and opportunities for social connections, according to Alan Kohll, the founder and president of health and wellness service provider, TotalWellness.

So how healthy is your work-life balance?

Take a day or two off to catch up on some sleep, take a long bath, read a book, go for a run, or do some meditation. Do not take work home. It could be the difference between burning out for the rest of the week and improving your job performance for rest of the month.